A Look At What’s Out There/Albums and EP reviews/Dominic Valvona

Jaguwar ‘Gold’
(Tapete Records)  22nd October 2021

Literally bursting back on the ‘scene’ with a driven psychedelic and rocking cyclone of future on-message pop, the Berlin and Dresden spanning Jaguwar trio finally release their new album after a three-year period of “intense” touring (well, up until Covid put travelling on hold).

In a constant reverberated state, Oyémi, Lemmy and Chris pummel and whip up a both halcyon and brooding maelstrom; raging against the machine, monuments and constraints of the now, whilst clearing a path for a giddy borderless utopian future. There’s “strength in individuality” they cry as another mini-epic of drilled drums, acid kinetics, echoed cybernetic growled bass and speed shift effects blast away.

Less noisy in part, but no less ambitious and sprawling sound wise, with constant crescendos and climaxes, Jaguwar conjure up a lush, dreamy but also moodier musical soundscape. At the heart of each flurry of sonic activity lies a more commercial friendly pop melody: think Mew or MGMT. The rounded softened anger of ‘Monuments’ has an air of Tears For Fears; the skipping prog-rock edged title-track ‘Gold’ a hint of Bloc Party and Muse; and the big drum sound opener ‘Battles’ an echo of the Secret Machines.

Gold is an intense maelstrom, bursting to explode; a warbled duel vocal yearning and rile for a brighter, inclusive future.

Boom. Diwan Featuring Nduduzo Makhathini  ‘Minarets EP’
5th November 2021

Lushly conceived across three countries (UAE, Kuwait and South Africa), if not at times caught in descriptive choppy maelstroms, the Arabian-African collaboration between Boom. Diwan and Nduduzo Makhathini is imbued with the spirit and soul of both partner’s heritage.  From the Abu Dhabi-based musician and ‘applied-ethnomusicologist’ Ghazi Al-Mulaifi led Boom. Diwan ensemble the rhythm and song of Kuwait’s pearl divers and Islamic poetry, and from the Blue Note showcased South African pianist Makhathini the spiritual sounds of the Zulu heartlands and a blend of the semi-classical and jazz.

Named, as are the EP’s tracks, with titles that act as much as metaphors for forgiveness and the tumult of the times “Minaret” in the Arabic language is a beam of light, a lighthouse even, but in the Islamic world is usually meant as the tower attached to a mosque, from where the daily calls to prayer are sung. Here its venerable position is part of a fluid, often melodious swept-up landscape in which Arabia meets Southern Africa.

Flowing across the peacefully lulled lyricism, hand-clapped and gently splashing or tumbled drums and almost transcendent guitar accents (which on the more chaotic but no less hymnal ‘Blood In The Wind’ plaint grows increasing distorted and wild), Makhathini’s piano flows freely like gently trickled and more disturbed waters. In that range you can hear echoes of Abdullah Ibrahim, Mingus, McCoy Tyner and John Hicks (in particular Pharaoh Sanders ‘Africa’).  

Diving for ‘The Pearl’ both musical spheres come together in an almost romantic performance: vulnerable but warm. Melodic spiritual Arabian sung harmonies with spells of free jazz, the cinematic and classical feel the air as the dramatic Gulf waters swell from the blessed to the choppy – the piano starts to emulate a touch of the Jaws theme by the end of this pearl dive. It’s a beautiful transportive piece of music, moving, exotic but instantly emotive.

For some reason the next suite (the already mentioned ‘Blood In The Wind’) reminded me of Robert Wyatt: albeit moved to the Middle East. With far more in the turbulent tank, this traverse promises upheaval, even if it is executed most tenderly.

Featuring those handclap rhythms and a tonal serial piano that dances, the proverb-like ‘Raise Your Words’ (“not your rage”) finds more relaxed, calmer seas.

Despite neither of the two collaborators meeting – forming as they did a trusting partnership over candid Zoom calls – Minarets is an incredibly intuitive and nuanced balance of musical styles; a work of great traversing beauty and yearning. I really look forward to these two coming together again in the future.

Also See…

Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds’ Choice Albums of 2020. Here

Noah ‘Étoile EP’
(Flaur)  22nd October 2021

In wisped apparitional and soothed vocal form the Japanese artist Noah evokes a dreamy spell of hushed yearns and beyond-these-realms tidings on her new French-esque EP, Étoile. Translated that title means, “star”, though it’s also the leading ballet dancer in a company, an opera and 1989 movie – in which, the main protagonist is possessed by the dead spirit of a former ballerina. There’s certainly a kind of haunted if diaphanous suffusion of voices and vocals, and more than a fleeting élan of France. The opening floral ‘Rosa Alba’ (the EP’s second single) evokes a late 70s, perhaps early 80s, French movie soundtrack that enraptures romance and mystique into one realist-fantasy. Slowed, steamed trip-hop beats, glistening caresses of angelic harp, tinkles of piano and strings, and patted breaths create an electric glide in blue.

Despite (which no artist can avoid) the pandemic and the driver s behind this EP’s trio of tracks (a rebellion against tradition/authority, and an awareness of deep emotions like anger and sadness) it all sounds so gauzy and beautiful. Often it sounds like we’re hearing just the faintest traces and reverberations of a song. Even when those electronic beats and synthesized drum kit sounds are brought in they are softened, or, motion wise, bobbing along nicely within these translucent structures.

Both the emotional “ah’d” ‘Perdu Au Paradis’ and magical ‘Moonchild’ (the first single) move towards sophisticated shuttered House and minimal Basic Channel beats and clipped baubles of light. Beautifully embodying a smoke-like vapour, Noah weaves emotive vibes from the ether.

Dear Laika ‘Pluperfect Mind’
(UK: Memorials Of Distinction/ROW/US: NNA Tapes) 29th October 2021

Atmospherically sounding like an out-of-body experience of the blurred and gauzy, Dear Laika’s debut album for the label is actually a both dreamy and dramatic celebration and outpouring of emotional-driven articulations born out of finding one’s true self. As a certain death knell toll of bowl and bell-like inner piano workings strike, Isabelle Thorn is set free from one life so she can transition into another.

Despite the anxieties and stressful processes (both medically and emotionally), the years spent in a certain solitude waiting for hormone treatments, the Pluperfect Mind album is filled with a slow-release of elation. “Inhabiting a body that now feels right” the extraordinary choral-voiced experimental artist makes the abstract sound tactile and diaphanous; creating a beautiful, if at times moody and darker, effective soundtrack of venerable, semi-classical relief and hurt.

Although in her notes Thorn declares she has a love/hate relationship with classical music – perhaps because its allurement reaches back to a pre-transitional past -, she casts a magical spell over the piano mechanisms, boundary pushed influences of Reich and Cage, the music of such luminaries as Messian, Finzi and Ravel, and the stirring holy choruses of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is all pulled together and given an almost ethereal and cosmic synthesized treatment of deeply felt purred bass, vapours and various entrancing ambient filters.

That incredible voice, which reads French poetry in the intricate, rattled and chimed ballet ‘Lilac Moon, Reflected Sun’, seems timeless yet also very much of the moment. It can sound under a myriad of reverberated, vaporised and cyber effects like FKA Twigs, Kate Bush, Bat For Lashes and on the scrunch-clap, storm raised ‘Guinefort’s Grave’ like a merger of Bjork and Beverly Craven. At its most haunting, accompanied by that holy choral chorus, like the ‘Requiem’ from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Almost a mirage in places, airy and with a lofty gravitas, Thorn attentively fades in and out of the music, and even time itself – walking off the contemporary set into a Medieval tapestry on the ‘Phlebotomy’ track.

References, connections are made to the Judaic and atavistic myths of the ‘primordial she-devil’ Lilith, who’s symbolism has been transformed to mean all manner of things to all manner of people, religions. In this instance a bewitching Lilith graces the title of a celebration. Another reference title name checks the home made famous in the lead up to Goya’s exile. The “deaf man’s villa’, or “Quinta del Sordo”, was the place where this famous Spaniard painted his haunting and sometimes grotesque character ‘black paintings’ (Saturn Devouring His Son, that kind of thing). Here we are led into a sort of Moorish Spain atmosphere of translucent mysteries. And the already mentioned ‘Guinefort’s Grave’ is song about the legend of St Guinefort: ‘the only saint who is also a dog’.

Processing the memories and the reminders of a less happy life whilst striking out after inhabiting the body she should have, Thorn, under her Dear Liaka moniker, eludes a fragile, vulnerable state yet somehow produces a very confident album. With depth and feeling, she reconnects with a highly intoxicating and mature work of incredible beauty and realisation. Expect to see this album in my choice list at the end of this year.    

Charlotte Greve, Wood River, Cantus Domus ‘Sediments We Move’
(New Amsterdam Records)  15th October 2021

The second release this week to feature a highly atmospheric, often dramatic, choral accompaniment; a heaving and diaphanous swell of voices in this case, provided by the Berlin choir Cantus Domus. Controlling these venerable voices is fellow Berliner and award-winning composer-singer-saxophonist Charlotte Greve, who magic’s up a stunning musically amorphous requiem on her new mini-opus.  

Once more with the Brooklyn (where the artist now resides) band Wind River backing her, the ever-experimental Greve builds an impressive (almost seamless) album of suites in her image: that’s open, vulnerable and free-spirited creatively. With an emphasis on inter-generational family dialogues and connections too, Greve’s brother Julius has contributed lyrics, which in the mouths of the Cantus Domus choir are filled with the gravitas of an operatic production and given a technically brilliant workout. 

The saxophone part of Greve’s accolade-rich CV would reasonably suggest that her music of choice could be jazz. And yes there are hints of it woven and contouring and drifting across some of these seven untethered tracks (a bit of lighter cosmic Donny McCaslin perhaps), but it’s only a small part of the overall sound dynamics. For at times there’s a mix of prog-rock, Zappa, the Floydian, These New Puritans, post-punk and even 80s Yes! All together it makes for a lunar-bounding, often free-falling and barreling religious and avant-garde piece of theatre.

Captivating at every turn, dreamy and floated, Sediments We Move is a gorgeous filmic and evocative album of timeless emotional pulls and élan, with an ear for the experimental.

Lisa Butel & Brent Cross ‘A Low Lament For Love And Loss/The Feeling Of Walking’ (Somewherecold Records) 5th November 2021

This month selection of choice music (as you may have noticed) is particularly heavy on voice/vocal experimentation; none so more then the double offerings from the Vancouver-based collaboration of sound artists, Lisa Butel and Brent Cross.

Another product of stress-relief and vehicle for abstract anxieties, feelings and terms of bereavement felt through the creation of music, during the harrowing and restrictive pandemic this sonic and empirical voiced partnership created a moiety of albums. As release valves for pent-up feelings of loss and isolation, these two album suites are full of blended and manipulated minimal synthesised sounds, piano accompaniments from a family heirloom, and a gauzy flow of uttered, elegiac, aria and tonal vocals.

A Low Lament For Love And Loss takes a one-hour improvised session and breaks it down into seven parts of varied elegy and ethereal sung mystique and diaphanous outpours. To a flutter, ripples and fuzzy synth undulations and drones, Butel’s voice yearns syllables and sounds. Often they sound otherworldly, or as in the case of the slowed, stripped Red Mecca era Cabaret Voltaire, buzzing and crisp Middle Eastern tinged ‘Intro To Lament’, like a mysterious call to prayer from atop of a minaret.

Wafted, drifted, translucent yet deeply felt that voice and accompaniment is entrancing but often tragic; dealing as it does from the loss of Cross’s mother, whose Heintzman piano can be heard throughout, fluctuating between sentimental tinkles, singular patted notes and melodious dreamy passages.

The Feeling Of Walking is in a very similar vein, though the process is a little different, using the voices as a sort of comfort and meditation. Opening beautiful gesture ‘I’m Giving Out The Love’ is like a mix of ambient generated dreaminess and slowcore; ‘Super Skies’ an almost monastic kind of poetry. There’s even a kind of Japanese dulcimer-like feel to the ghostly, delicate ‘The Beautiful Women’

Two congruous releases of pent-up emotions delivered in the form of an experiment between voice, piano and a palette of purposeful oscillations and manipulations, Cross and Butel’s lockdown albums act as a personal process but above all sound fully immersive and cathartic: A communal, connective experience. 

Hellenica ‘Blood Meridian: An Imagined Soundtrack’
(Somewherecold Records)  15th November 2021

You can’t read everything. And so now wishing I had read the evangelised Cormac McCarthy’s supernatural anti-Western Blood Meridian tome, I’m left feeling out-of-the-loop with Jim Demos (aka Hellenica since 2009) imaginative soundtrack for that acclaimed novel. Like one of those “what could have been” fandom generated homages, Jim’s cinematic score graces the movie yet to be made of that violent story – think Peckinpah totally uncensored and off the leash.

I admit I’ve had to do my research – yeah it’s a book friends have championed in the past, but never made my reading list. But in brief, Blood Meridian is at least tenuously based on the all too real horrifying exploits of the Glanton gang of miscreants; led by the early Mexican-Texas settler, ranger and mercenary John Joel Glanton. Scalp-hunters for hire, accustomed to blood bath massacres of not just the indigenous people but also anyone that crossed their path, this notorious skulk ran riot in the old West. Told from the perspective of a volunteer (I say volunteer, it was this or the rope) known only as “the kid”, the reader’s immersed in a old Western story of hurt and pain, and introduced to the gang’s leader “The Judge”; a sort of daemonic magnetism of a character, half gory guru, half Kurtz, who every character in the book meets and leaves the presence of in some state of semi-spiritual conversion and menace.

Jim loosely makes references to various chapters, scenes from the story; the most obvious being the opener ‘The Blood Of Toadvine’, which refers to the character of the same name, an acquaintance of “the kid”, member of the gang and the link in the chain of events that lands our protagonist towards almost esoteric barbarity. Here it’s scored with a yearning Western vibrato twanged arrangement that takes us across a supernatural-desert landscape. Hints of a voiceless Crime & The City Solution, the Bad Seeds, Alex Puddu and a very removed Roy Budd merge into that setting.

A re-imagined Morricone rubs shoulders with John Carpenter, Mandy soundtrack Jóhana Jóhannson, Wovenhand and Belbury Poly on this intrepid gothic, often eerie album of bloodletting. Yet amongst the Western tremolo and rattles, the mirages and warbles, there’s a suffused current of 80s sci-fi, adventure, and a dream-realism spell of Gallo thriller/horror. There’s even a touch of early Mute Records synthesized drums, and an air of new romanticism Visage on the deep groaning, skeleton bones traced ‘Parallax And False Guidance’. And the “169” frequency broadcasting, soft cantered ‘Westward Again’ sounds like a meeting between Kavinsky and Moroder.

Despite the material at its core, this soundtrack is peppered with sounds of celeste like chimes, soft walking melodies and dreamy halftime progressive jazz drums.

If they do ever get past all the issues and actually get this book on the screen, Jim’s got the soundtrack ready to go. Western scores have rarely sounded so different and mysterious; tragic and esoteric.

Spacelab ‘Dead Dimension’
(Hream Recordings) 12th November 2021

Growth and death manifest themselves in the celestial vortex and expanses of an imagined universe on the new Spacelab album. The strains of coping with a pandemic that is far from over, the anger, resentment, paranoia and hopelessness of it all is channeled into a soundtrack made in real-time: a spontaneous process that captures the exact state of mind and resulting mood music there and then.

Always in a spiral or cyclonic loop; always travelling at a certain velocity through space, Dead Dimensions captures the dying reverberations of a dead star, or, sets the dials towards hyper-drive, thrusting through tunneled and warped light passages of kosmische, ambient and sci-fi music on its way to a rendezvous with otherworldly escapism.

In amongst the pulses, continuous reversal effects, speed-shifts and oscillations the sound of plucked ambiguous instruments, even melodies, can be heard: but only in snatches. At times choral voices can be made out, leading to distant cathedral symphonic music and a mere resonance of Kluster and Tangerine Dream.

Spacelab’s emotional states lead to skying across neutron-calculated clouds, probing paranormal activity aboard a space freighter, and journey’s inside a roulette table spinning transport hub. Satellites, fleeting snippets of memories and debris fly by on this hurtle through a universe of mystery, lament, curiosity and gravitas, as Spacelab concentrates grief, rage and despair into a sonic cosmology.      

See Also…

Spacelab ‘Kaleidomission

Almeeva ‘To All My Friends EP’
(Baciami Disques)  29th October 2021

A touching, inclusive gesture from the electronic composer Gregory Hoepffner, who welcomes one and all to experience the ecstasy and euphoria under the roof of his Almeeva dance music club. Amongst a special set of N-R-G, Euro-dance music, techno and electronic body movement, the multi-instrumentalist producer lives in the moment for once.

With a mixed CV that includes stints as a producer and collaborator, and compositions that span TV, film and commercial projects, a slight jaded Hoepffner has now been revitalized and “redeemed” after a move to Sweden and creative exchange with the producer of critical and commercial heft Christoffer Berg (Depeche Mode, The Knife, Robyn, Fever Ray) – Those creative sparks must fly continuously as both producers now share a studio together.

Hoepffner’s relatively new Almeeva guise and EP suggests, at least, a happy medium of club land dance music and a free-flow of expanded ideas: even the cerebral. For amongst the house music style piano refrains, swimmingly sun filtered melodies, Euro-trance and beats there’s snatches of sagacious freedom from the trans icon Beverly Glenn-Copeland (the jazz-poet-singer-songwriter who went public in 2002, identifying as a trans-man). In a tribute to the now late Andrew Weatherall, Hoepffner leads the listener through a myriad of sonic rooms; from trebly gnarled Killing Joke post-punk to indie-dance, baggy and the Chemical Brothers. Basically a crossover of styles that’s very much in keeping with the late eclectic artist: the spirit of Weatherall is strong on this one.

As if to mix things up, slowcore siren Diane Pellotieri (of Pencey Sloe fame) sings like a mirage-filtered apparition on the cyclonic swirled dance track ‘Slowly Fading’. This dreamy voiced haze of Balearic and love blanketed Euro-dance music reminded me a little of the Boston synth group Violet Nox. Another surprise is the short lived ‘interlude’ of cathedral rays and airy veils ‘Church Of Ecstasy’ – a kind of ambient cosmic release of Vangelis meets Sven Vath. 

If as the Almeeva style Hoepffner says, he’s trying to avoid fitting labels, then I’d say the To All My Friends EP is a success. He doesn’t just side step them as to run freely across a whole array of electronic genres, never settling in any of them for long: always on the move.

Stereo Total ‘Chanson Hystérique 1995 – 2005’
(Tapete Records)  5th November 2021

And so we bid adieu, a fond farewell to the original idiosyncratic bilingual Franco-German duo, who couldn’t have foreseen when setting out this sprawling celebratory box set that it would actually be the last release to feature the maverick magic of Françoise Von Heve (nee Françoise Cactus) who passed away back in February of this year. That now leaves Friedrich Von Finsterwalde, aka Brazil Göring, without his foil.  

Alas Chanson Hystérique is now a epitaph and tribute to an astonishing polygenesis mind; one that could effortlessly run through tiki lounge chanson, booted knockabout glam rock, ye-ye, Jacques Detronc, transmogrified spurts of Transvision Vamp, Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, circus tremolo fandangos across Casio keyboards and The Fall on just one album: namely the duo’s ‘95 debut Oh Ah!

It was a relationship that in the end spanned four decades. But it’s the first decade of recordings, with a number of compilation rarities and some of their theatre work that makes up this seven X CD chronicle. It begins with the already mentioned rambunctious debut and finishes with 2005’s Do The Bambi.

Like the accompanying sketchbook of artwork that comes with this collection, anything goes: as long as its fun. Usually with a Eurotrash of lo fi keyboards, punk-pop low rent drum kit and guitar, the duo serenaded, danced Honolulu style to country music, and performed hijinks versions of both famous and the most underground covers: from KC And The Sunshine’s Euro fun ‘Get Down Tonight’ to an ESG like romp at Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’ and a version of that famous French pop masterpiece, as made legendary by Vanessa Paradis,  ‘Joe La Taxi’.   

With much continental élan, pep and humour, plus lashings of irony, Stereo Total switched between French and German (and English too) languages and musical styles; somehow always maintaining their own unique signature. A signature that could be summed up as German new wave meets French gauloises wafted aloofness post-punk. All of which is softened with a Gallic mischief and 60s café culture meets bubblegum pop coolness.

Unless you’re a fan, or familiar with the Monokini, Juke-Box Alarm, My Melody, Musique Automatique, Do The Bambi and Carte Postale albums you’re in for a rare surprising treat. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ll recognize the music, which has adorned many TV ads over the years. From the salacious to cute; Mondo to empowering, Stereo Total were a marvel; a unique musical force for good. No one but Sparks comes close. And influence wise their sound has been amplified to all corners of the globe.

This box set could just be the most fun and escapist package of the year. And for that it’s worth owning. 

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

David Ornette Cherry’s Organic Nation Listening Club (The Continual)
(Spiritmuse)  15th October 2021

What providence. What two outstanding luminaries to live up to. David Ornette Cherry’s name marks the extraordinary point in time when his trumpet-pioneering father Don Cherry joined forces with jazz deity Ornette Coleman on the 1958 free jazz defining Something Else!!! LP. It was also the year the musical polymath David was born.

Thankfully taken under his father’s wing, nurtured with the same freewheeling ‘cosmic nomad’ spirit, this sagacious scion of an enviable lineage continues to tread a polygenesis pathway on his latest album of on-message peregrination and rhythmic dances. Attuned to the universal vibrations, channeling the ancients and both his father’s African-American and Choctaw roots, the Organic Nation Listening Club bandleader, prompter and navigator lays out an atavistic form of electronic body movement, echoes of Hassell’s amorphous ‘fourth world’ explorations, the astral and, of course, spiritual jazz on the parenthesis entitled The Continual journey.

David leads a fourteen strong ensemble of global instrument-playing musicians and voices, which includes his niece Tyson McVey (daughter of the no less famous musical sibling, Neneh Cherry) performing vocal soundscape harmonization and wandering siren duties on the diaphanous courtly Indian accompanied, part conscious, part mindfulness yoga session, ‘So & So & So And So’ (imagine Prince joining forces with Linda Sharrock and Brother Ah). 

Almost meandering across continents, you’ll hear the resonated echoes, impressions, twine and spindled sounds of North and West Africa, the Asian sub-continent (a lovely brassy reverberation of sitar and the rhythm of tablas can be heard throughout), the Fertile Crescent and an 80s NYC melting pot on this spiritually enlivened trip. The keen-elbowed viola and tapping beat groove ‘Parallel Experience’, with its West African dun dun drum beat suggests that continent’s mood, yet also spreads its scope towards echoes of Farhot’s reimagined breakbeat visions of Afghanistan. The majestic mountain crust positioned ‘Eagle Play’ takes in musical views of not only the recurring spiritual Indian leitmotif but also Anatolia and Harilu Mergia’s Ethiopia (if put together by J Dilla that is).

Elsewhere David and his human, as well as nature’s chorus of ‘hummingbird’ singing cast embody the untethered soul of Don Cherry’s Om Shanti Om and Eternal Now works (and even a touch of the musical microbe calculus of building blocks and life that you’ll find on Don’s collaboration with Terry Riley, Köln). There’s also the fluted presence of Jeremy Steig, and with the more free jazz, almost improvised interactions between David and his drummer John L. Price, electric piano player Naima Karlsson and trumpeter Paul Simms, a touch of Sam Rivers and the Chicago Underground. Meanwhile, in what is an especially expansive field of instrumentation and influence, Gemi Taylor’s guitar straddles krautrock, jazz and drifted cries of a more ambiguous nature. 

From the cosmos to the age of the Pharaohs, the garden of earthly delights to dancing through the tumult of our modern times, the rhythms of life merge with more avant-garde performances of serialism, free jazz and even the psychedelic.

All the while the mood is electric, both of the moment and the past; a both sporadic and flowing set of reincarnations existing in a timeless scene under the guidance of an outstanding musical traveller. Anchored in the history of jazz, but so much more beyond that, David lives up to the family name on another eclectic album of borderless healing and wisdom. Be sure to check in at the global retreat and take heed of the advice.  

Reviews Roundup/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The BordellosBrian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include the King Of No-Fi album, a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart, and a series of double-A side singles (released so far, ‘Shattered Pop Kiss/Sky Writing’ and ‘Daisy Master Race/Cultural Euthanasia’). He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped-down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we throw whatever sticks at the inimitable music lover, and he comes up with this…

James Henry ‘Pluck’
29th June 2021

James Henry it seems is a scouser residing in London, and is rather fond of writing and recording fine power pop delight nuggets that recall Squeeze and Jellyfish, Mathew Sweet (with a touch of XTC) about them. And he succeeds in splaying my living room with an aural sun, which warms the very cockles of this pop loving soul. Pluck is an album that has everything one wants in a mature pop album: melodies, catchy guitar riffs, handclaps and harmonies, and well written lyrics, which is always a plus point as I often find albums in this genre are quite often let down by lyrical clichés. But I can happily report that is not the case here.

‘Afterthought’ and ‘Currently Resting’ also bring mid 60s Beatles to mind with some beautifully chiming 12 string guitars; and over the twelve tracks on this album you can hear the mid 60s pop influence gently seeping through. So anyone who has never gotten over the fact that Rockpile never made a second album should seek out this fun filled album of joyous melody.

Simon Waldram  ‘So It Goes’
4th June 2021

If buying an album of sublime modern day psych folk with a touch of indie pop is on your bucket list well I am here to help. For what we have here is an album of well-crafted heartfelt songs of the aforementioned.

The album gently kicks off with the lovingly atmospheric Nick Drake like ‘You’, which is followed by a beautiful melodious ‘I Miss The Sun’, a song worthy of Grant McLennan in the halcyon days of The Go Betweens, which is then followed by a piano ballad, ‘Don’t Worry’. Three tracks in and all beautifully written and performed and different to the one previous, and that is what is so annoying about this album. No not annoying because it’s an album of pure excellence, but for the fact that Simon is not ‘Better Known’ than he is. For songwriters with his talent and heart should be clutched to the music lovers’ collective bosom and cherished. There is no reason at all why this album should not be a huge success: it has radio friendly indie songs – ‘Boats In The Sky’ should be all over the radio -; it’s perfect indie pop – the wonderfully entitled ‘The Wild Wandering Of Wildebeest’, but for the “They don’t give a fuck” chorus that might cut down on radio play for that particular little gem of a track.

Not everyone can record a 8 minute plus song of bewitching guitar jangle without it getting a bit boring but Simon pulls it off with what I think is the centrepiece to the album, ‘Windswept’, which any Red House Painters fans might want to lend an ear to. 

So It Goes is an album that deserves to finally give Simon Waldram the recognition he deserves, as I do not think I have heard a better album this year, and this could well be his 16 Lovers Lane.

Sid Bradley ‘Child Of The Sea’
(Guerssen) 16th June 2021

What we have here my little ragamuffin Annies, is an album of lost and found studio recordings from the American songwriter Sid Bradley, recorded between 1971-79. And what a hugely enjoyable listen it is as well. The opener ‘Child Of The Sea’, is a track of pure hippy funk, with its hep cat hip swaying basstastic riff inducement of enlightenment that has one nostalgic for the days of the Age Of Aquarius, and as the album proceeds down its merry path, one is dragged smilingly to lose itself in psych folk pop of ‘Nothing Is Easy’ – a gem worthy of the Wickerman soundtrack -, or the pop delight of ‘To Be Your Friend’ – imagine the Monkees with Keith Richards standing in for a song or two. An album recommended for all lovers of 60s /70s guitar pop rock indeedy. 

Big Stir Singles ‘The Tenth Wave’
(Big Stir Records) 12th June 2021

This album is such an enjoyable listen. Once again a comp of the weekly download singles, A and B-sides, released by Big Stir Records in the months of October and November of 2020. And each track is a perfectly formed slice of pure pop; each one blessed with a charm that really cannot be praised highly enough. Each track, each band having their own sound own form of magic, from the wonderful take of John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919’ by October Surprise (which I actually prefer to the original) to the prog psych of Whelligan ‘Rabbit Hole’.

There is not a bad track among the twenty-two on the comp and is difficult to pick a favourite, so I will not bother in doing so. But Big Stir records should be congratulated in finding so many wonderful artists and songs to release to such high standards on a weekly basis, and I would recommend any music lover who has not yet had the pleasure to enjoy the ever growing cannon of pop magic released on that label to give this fine compilation a listen and then go back rediscover their other fine releases.

Occult Character ‘Bluzzed’
3rd June 2021

Occult Character has a double album due out soon on Metal Postcard Records, but before that Mr Occult has released this fine 8 track album of short acoustic songs, which act as short accurate snapshots of people and life: like an hour or so sat in the bar people watching.

Occult Character has the rare lyrical talent of picking out the small features about life and its inhabitants and making it both funny and at times heartbreakingly accurate. ‘Super Spreader Yeh!’ is a gem, a wonderful short humorous attack on some people’s attitude to Co-vid: “4000 people die a day but we got to twist the night away”. As I’ve said in past reviews of Occult Character, he is indeed the closest thing the USA has to Woody Guthrie, and is only a matter of time before he is discovered by the likes of Rolling Stone and such major publications.

Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea’s Special Review Roundup

The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include the King Of No-Fi album, a collaborative derangement with the Texas miscreant Occult Character, Heart To Heart, and a double-A side single, ‘Shattered Pop Kiss/Sky Writing’. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.

Singles/Tracks.

Occult Character  ‘The Song Remains The Stain’
11th April 2021

The first new track from Occult Character in four months, which I think is the longest he has gone without releasing anything, and what a gem it is. To break his silence a song that lasts just over one and a half minutes and a song that asks the question what is the best lyric you have ever heard, and in the one and half minutes all the magic and genius of The Occult Character is put on show; the devil be damned nonchalance of tossed away brilliance that has not been witnessed sing Errol Flynn wore a feather in his cap and rocked a pair of green tights: pure swashbuckling excellence.

Albums/EPs..

BMX Bandits ‘Star Wars (30th Anniversary Edition)
30th April/ Vinyl 4th May 2021

Is it really 30 years since this lovely album first entered into the musical planet? This being the 30th year Anniversary edition I assume it must be. I have always liked this album; it takes me back 30 years to 1991 the year I met my long-suffering wife. So this album has all the magic of the first kiss, the first time you held hands got drunk together and much more first times, but this being a family musical publication I will not proceed any further. But this LP has the advantage of the magic of nostalgia on its side. Not that it needs nostalgia to make this a magic album the opening track itself, ‘Come Clean’, more than enough covers that with the guitar jangle and the pure pop poetry lyrics, “What’s so wrong with loving your body when I love you so much inside”:true poetry.

There is a warmness and charm about this album that can only be described by listening to it, but if you need any encouragement to do so it has ‘Disguise’ on it, a song that demonstrates the hidden art of call and response on record, and not just has that it also has handclaps and has a rock n roll twin guitar solo on it that is not by Thin Lizzy and so not shit: how rare is that? It also has ‘Students of Life’, a song that Jonathan Richman should have written but somehow did not, and the pure pop splendor of ‘Do You Love Me’, and if it was a drink of pop it would be fizzy and make you giddy for drinking too much of it. Yes throwaway pop writing at its finest. And that is what so special about this album the true magic of throwaway pop. It is an art form that many try and many fail to do, but the BMX Bandits had it mastered and down to a fine art and if you want further encouragement the title track would have not been out of place on The Beach Boys finest album The Beach Boys Love You.

Salem Trials ‘Refuse To Die’
2nd April 2021

When an album kicks off with a ‘Kool Thing’ like guitar riff you know you are going to have an enjoyable half an hour or so of enjoyable alt rock hip swaying ahead of you. And when that album is by the masters of alt rock guitar weirdness the Salem Trials, you defiantly know what is ahead: angular riffs and angular singing. Russ the singer really is the missing link between Mark E Smith and a head full of stinging bees, the man is truly a one off and is part of what makes the Salem Trials so special, the other part is the incredible musicality of Andy, a man who can combine the influence of his huge record collection into six strings of wonder.

This album of course is there lord knows how manyath album of the last 18 months: a band that makes Guided By Voices look like lazy bastards. And like Guided By Voices they manage to keep it interesting by making every album bloody good, the only difference being that Salem Trials are much better.

Refuse To Die is available to download from the Salem Trials Bandcamp and can be downloaded for free so why not do it and then investigate their many other albums: be warned they have another one on the way released through Metal Postcard Records so get this. You will not be disappointed at all.

Toxic Chicken ‘Gamelan[d] 2’
7th April 2021

Gamelan[d]2 is an ice cream van ride of magical adventure taking in psychedelia, whimsy, electronica and experimental wonder. A fairground amusement arcade of beats and pure nostalgia flood the heart and beats down the door to your inner senses, which reveals nothing but the crazy workings of a tender soul. Toxic Chicken is back, and back with vengeance; a true musical maverick in a musical world full of weight watcher Beatles and second hand Goths betraying the tick it sentimental darkness of a rehashed Coil box set. If the Aphex Twin was as good as people say he might sound like this.

Toxic Chicken never lets me down; he takes me to a world I truly wish existed. And for that I will be forever grateful.

Various ‘Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave’
(Big Stir Records) 10th April 2021

This album is a comp of all the A and B sides from the Big Stir Records download single series, released from the end of August to the beginning of October 2020, and as you can imagine the comp is full of all the power poptastic joy that Big Stir are renowned for releasing. From the opening track by Dolph Chaney, ‘Be My Old Fart’, which I’m pleased to say is a fragrant smelling piece of guitar poppery, to the final track by Athanor, ‘Approximately Eternity’, which is a Smithereens like voyage to the planet 60’s influenced psych pop, you are treated by melodies galore. In between you will find finely crafted songs of skill, style and panache from the likes of Rosie Abbot, with the La laid back 70’s seduction of ‘Hold on’, to a rather splendid cover of Gilbert O Sullivan‘s ‘Alone Again Naturally’, which may be one of the most heartbreakingly true to life brilliant songs ever written, and covered with some style by Nick Frater.

This is a comp that is so listenable; one of the few that you are tempted not to skip tracks on. It’s like a bag of audible Jelly Babies all being different colours of sweet tasty chewing goodness that once you have started you have to finish, but unlike a bag of jelly babies you will not feel violently sick after consuming them all. In fact you want to put the album on again, and how many times can you say you have come across a compilation CD that is better than a bag of Jelly Babies? I will tell you…not often.

The Forty Nineteens  ‘The New Roaring Twenties’
(Big Stir) 24th April 2021

If a quiet night in with some gentle music, fine wine and a book were what you after then I would give this LP of fun garage rock a miss. But if you are in the mood to party and dance the marimba with the partner of your choice, then this is could be the album for you.

Songs with clashing guitars and “na na na” choruses really never grow old; songs about radio’s, fast cars and fast women abound. There is even a slightly camp Elvis Presley impression on ‘We-re Going To Vegas’ that Freddie Starr would have been proud of. This is not an album that the Quietus would write about: in fact this album is an anti-Quietus record. An album highbrow serious scholar might dismiss as throwaway frivolous rock ‘n’ roll fun, not quite grasping that rock ‘n’ roll should be frivolous throwaway fun and that in dismissing this album of great rock ‘n’ roll they’ve missed one of the best old time pop songs I have heard this year, ‘Time Marches On’, which is all Motown bass riffs and Partridge Family melodies and chiming guitars.

The New Roaring Twenties is an album of very well written garage rock/pop with a touch of the early Elvis Costello’s about it, and is another album that should be clutched to the bosom of rock ‘n’ rollers of all ages everywhere.

Special Interest ‘Trust No Wave’
(Disciples) 14th May 2021

This is a reissue of Special Interest‘s 2016 demo tape, and very good it is as well. The sound of sifting through the charred remains of the after taste of punk rock, screeching guitars feedback drenched noise ridden ramblings of the forbidden poet, the sound of shoegazers wearing pit boots, sonic monologues bathed in bathos pathos apathy and the bewitched meanderings of the furloughed pitchfork killer. Yes, it is all here all, everything one can ask for from short slabs of heart-breaking agro. A ripped party dress of an album and on ‘Ill Never Do Ketamine Again’ you know they are lying.

Mark E Moon ‘Old Blood’
2nd April 2021

If camp bombastic Goth is your thing I could well be writing about your new favourite album. Sisters like guitar merge with synths not heard since Ultravox was singing about Rigsby’s cat, but this album by Mark E Moon has so much more going for it. It has a rather wonderful euro disco beat running throughout tracks like ‘Animals’ and is worthy of Dead or Alive “at their “Youthquake” best, and ‘I Robot’ is a track that easily could slip onto BBC 6 MUSIC playlists – all Robert Smith guitar lines and the early noughties American alt rock that Interpol so excelled at.

Obviously, any Goth music at some point has to betray a slight influence of Sisters of Mercy and Mark E Moon does not disappoint with the entirely enjoyable ‘The Falling’ and the title track ‘Old Blood’, which has a drum machine that sounds like it is nailing a solidified nail of vitriol into the remains of your once caring soul.

Old Blood is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard this year. It’s an album that beautifully merges pop alt rock and Goth into a wonderful collection of radio friendly alt pop.

Lark ‘The Last Woman’
(Wormhole World) 30th April 2021

The drunken drawl of a velvet voiced lounge lizard immediately drew me to this album; distorted fuzzy guitars and the sound of a man’s heart breaking into many pieces always manages to somehow draw me in.

Lark have that wonderful ‘I have lived what I am singing about’ atmosphere to their tracks, whether it is the wonderful Fall like ‘John Berger’s Wild Shirt’, with lyrics being spat out with wild abandon (“the gift horse has no mouth” line is pure Mark E Smith), or the slow down gothic trawl of ‘Night Club’, which paints images of dark nights in the sordid part of town (all neon lights and tomorrow’s hangover), or my personal favourite track, the honey voiced almost Orange Juice like ballad ‘Nothing’. This is an album that will appeal to many and is available as a very ltd cd release, so alternative music fans who like their music in a solid format you will have to get a move on if you want this album of tossed away down at heel sleazy glamour.

Flowertown ‘Flowertown’
23rd April 2021

This is a beautiful album; it has all that is good about recording on a 4-track tape recorder: the tape hiss, the warmth, the soul and believe that recording on tape provides; it has no fakery all that glitters is gold. And this is indeed gold; a treasure trove of Mazzy Star like seduction and Mary Chain ballad tenderness. Slightly distorted guitars and the rattle of the tambourine have never sounded so sweet: this is true lo-fi.

There is just something so romantically perfect about this album. I admit I’m a sucker for male/female duets, especially when they are so charmingly and shyly performed and on ‘RCP’ they have the great taste to rip off ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’ by The Seeds, which is one of the greatest songs ever written. But Flowertown can get away with it, as they are just so bloody perfect. This really is a lovely album of lo-fi perfection, the sound of two lost hearts finding a soul mate.

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A Reviews Roundup/Words: Dominic Valvona

Greetings to regular and new readers alike, the first such revue roundup from me in 2021 features another eclectic spread of curious and choice releases.  Albums wise I take a look at the latest Benelux-with-global-reaching-curiosity release from the polygenesis label Sdban Ultra: an Ethiopian, Anatolian, Oriental and Arabian sweeping cosmic odyssey from the Azmari collective. Adroit experimental guitarist and composer Myles Cochran delivers a slow music vision of bluegrass, Americana, soundtrack music and minimalism on his new album, Unsung. Hamburg sonic explorer stalwart Richard Von Der Schulenburg delves into Library Music, with a hint of Bamboo Music and Kosmische, on his debut suite for the label Bureau B; prolific Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds lets his consciousness unfold on the brilliant electronic EP Nihilism Is Pointless; maverick art-House and electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, under his Sad Man guise, offers another unique Techno-driven album, Music Of Dreams And Panic; and there’s a dark arts of psychedelic and country, doom rock ’n’ roll whisky drenched ruminations from Anaximander Fragment to behold.

On the singles, skits, videos and odd tracks front I’ve included this month the precursor single to the tragic-bound White Ring and their upcoming second album Show Me Heaven, and a blooming lovely single from the Israeli group Mazeppa, entitled ‘Roses’.

Singles/Videos/Tracks.

White Ring  ‘Light Hours Linger/I Need A Way’ (Rocket Girl Records) 

Arriving two years after their bewitching, if challenging (in the very best way), debut album Gate of Grief, the tragic-stricken and tormented White Ring open up their souls on the equally grieving Show Me Heaven opus. In October 2019 while writing this album, founding member Kendra Malia sadly passed away after an on-off struggle with drugs and schizophrenia. She was slated to be involved but didn’t get the opportunity to contribute before her death. Thematically then, Show Me Heaven focuses on the aftermath of that tragedy, though creative foil and White Ring co-founder Bryan Kurkimilis also explains, “This album is about the consequences of darkness.” Kurkimilis is joined in this acceptance and unravelling of loss by Adina Viarengo, who joined the band back in 2017. In the run up to that second longplayer’s release on the 19th February 2021, the Ring’s label, Rocket Girl Records has made available the first two tracks via Bandcamp. First up is the caustic and dissonant, countered by ethereal vapours and wisped veils, drawing in of the diaphanous outer body light beauty ‘Light Hours Linger’: an allurement towards the rocks, lush dreamscape that disarms the plaint and esoteric moodiness. The second, ‘I Need A Way’, is rockier, more coarse and industrial Gothic, a meeting of NIN and Bowie in sludge doom fuzzy lament. This couplet of tracks bows well for that upcoming full-length album next month. Expect a review sometime in the next few weeks.

Mazeppa  ‘Roses’
Out Now

What a really lovely melange of c86/shoegaze 80s period alternative indie pop beauty from the Haifa, Israel band Mazeppa. Featured back in 2020 with their Kabbalah style Patti Smith wafting and lingering around an intoxicating incense of Middle Eastern and Byzantium psychedlica enriched single ‘The Way In’, the quartet now turn to a heady diaphanous gauze of Altered Images via The Breeders and Athens, Georgia 80s scene. Heavenly brooding romanticism has seldom sounded better and lusher: though they always manage to add some grit into that lovely wash. Mazeppa have released the blooming ‘Roses’ in the run-up to a new album (released on the 10th February 2021), which I will review next month. Until then, soak this gem of a single up.

Albums/EPS..

Azmari  ‘Samā’ī’
(Sdban Ultra)  22nd January 2021

From the polygenesis Benelux label Sdban Ultra another eclectic odyssey of African, Arabian and Oriental cosmic-jazz and Afrobeat, with the inaugural full-scale mirage of an album from the Brussel’s hot-housed Azmari collective. Showing off their internationally-open references and inspirations, the sextet of Arthur Ancion (on drums), Basile Bourtembourg (Keyboards, Saaz and Percussion), Jojo Demeijer (Percussion), Niels D’haegeleer (Bass) Mattéo Badet (Saxophone and Kaval) and Ambroose de Schepper (Saxophone and Flute) have chosen a moniker that translate from the ancient and official Ethiopian language of Amharic as “one who praises”. That name also refers to that region’s version of a West African Griot, or European Bard; a singer-musician of song, story and recount, often accompanied by the one-stringed lute-like “Masenqo” and five or six-stringed, bowl-shaped pentatonic scale lyre, the “Krar”. Within this lineup you’ll find a wealth of instruments and scales being intergrated: from the Saaz to Persian Ney flute and Kaval. Though a penchant to the exotic sounds and wonders of the already mentioned Ethiopia and Eritrea dominate throughout their work.

Offering an expansive, entrancing expansion of their live act and debut EP Ekera (released back in 2019), and with numerous travels under their belts, Samā’ī traverses the group’s immersion in Turkish music (especially from the 1960s) and the camel-laden musical accompaniments of Mali’s Tuareg; following these nomadic bluesmen on the semi-annual trade route between the northern Taoudenni salt mines and Timbuktu.

A promising fantasy of epochs and geography (both real and imagined), the album opens with the shimmery and hazy fluty suffused incipient sun rise ‘Zegiyitwali’: a scene of quivering cymbals and mystical horns that evokes our protagonists waking up in the red desert, dusting off the sand from their blankets. It then hits the Kuti trail on the next flight of fantasy, ‘Cosmic Masadani’: an Afrobeat by way of Hailu Mergia Ethio-Jazz and the dub of Transglobal Underground. The first official reference to a real location, ‘Kamilari’, takes Sun-Ra and Orlando Julius on a playful dance through the Minoan ruins of the Cretan Island – though this Byzantine derived name also means “the one who rides a camel”, and there is a kind of clopping coconuts percussive trot to this soul-funk desert, dreamy hypnotism.

It’s take off from the Ethiopian space agency on the lunar crater endorsed Tardis thrashing cosmic Afro-Jazz ‘Kugler’, and a shrouded, clandestine soundtracked vision of Isaac Hayes in the atavistic historical thoroughfare of Anatolian Chalcedon, on the shuttled, breakbeat and sax circling, squawking ‘Kadikoy’. From the mesmeric and dusky to outbursts of psychedelic jazz and Afrobeat, Samā’ī passes through an esoteric Orient, the mystical desert lands and caravan routes of Mali and Arabia, and the Asian banks of Istanbul. Those with a yearning and hunger for the quality of the Budos Band, Antibalas, Okay Temiz and Mulatu Astatke will soak this borderless odyssey up.

Myles Cochran ‘Unsung’
(9 Ball Records)  29th January 2021

Making good on a run of empirical and refined precursor soundtracks in 2020, the placable Kentuckian guitarist, composer, songwriter and producer Myles Cochran follows up with a broadened canvas of Americana traces and bluegrass reification on his Unsung album. On the outskirts of a recognisable Western panorama Cochran applies misty attentive lingering guitar caresses, vibrations and brushes until his country roots are all but washed out, leaving only a vague gesture and sense of place and time. 

Sure, it’s bluegrass…but not quite as we know it. For all the evocations of a Mid-Western homestead and porch, or, a rustic trek across the Appalachians there’s drifts into the semi-classical, the blues, avant-garde, primitive and, even, jazz.

A well-travelled man, some of this effortless embrace of styles is in part down to an absorption of music picked up by Myles as he moved from Kentucky to New York, then, onto the UK – this album was in fact recorded between his new home studio in the UK and one in France. It also helps that he’s quite the prolific collaborator: working for example in recent years with the experimental Celtic and new-folk siren of note, and Monolith Cocktail favourite, Bróna McVittie. Myles brings in the cello maestro Richard Curran and Nashville fiddler Lauren Conklin to add both congruous and stirring layers to his acoustic, electric and steel guitar romanticisms, lingers, mood suites and captured moments of both emerging and fading light, dates and emotions.

Augmented synthesized atmospheres, undulations, strings, a plonking piano and the most minimal of both frame drums and a full brushed, scuffled and shuffling drum kit extend the palette; resulting in a kind of fusion of Ry Coder and Steve Reich. At times there’s a splash, hint of Talk Talk, Droneroom and even Mark Knopfler. And sometimes the pace, rhythm picks up enough to suggest a strange, removed form of boogie-woogie blues grooving.

Myles is a multi-instrumentalist, but it’s his adroit, carefully (even if he’s greatly influenced by improvisation) place bowed, hovering, fanned quivered guitar renderings that describes and sets the mood throughout this alternative rural soundscape.  Most of all Unsung shows Myles’ talent for a lower-case form of amorphous blending; counterbalancing more cutting edge studio techniques with rustic charm and those bluegrass origins. This is an album of slow music that transports the listener to quiet places: a rewarding immersion of gentleness that unfurls its secrets and depth over time.    

Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Nihilism Is Pointless’
(Faith & Industry)  29th January 2021

If you can recall, back in the year zero of the pandemic epoch the Monolith Cocktail premièred yet another cerebral sonic vision from the prolific Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds: ‘HAL’s Lament’. The second such mood-piece from Reynolds first extended work of 2021, the ironically entitled Nihilism Is Pointless EP, this prowling counterpoint of increasingly obscured 2001: A Space Odyssey referencing and wallowed, vaporous cybernetics is a warning against the unchecked developments in A.I.: a sonic reification of existential angst; the eventual intellectual superiority of machine thinking over humans. HAL is the ultimate totem and example of that fear: A.I. acting increasingly ruthlessly through a logical conclusion of self-preservation and mission success at any cost. So many theories have been woven, but the red-eyed sentinel machine of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s imagination/vision could be said to have overstepped the boundaries: maybe deciding the next evolutionary step in humankind’s transcendence and survival was an artificially intelligent programme/machine; that useless artefact of a body no longer needed, just code. 

Joining an equally mind-expanding exercise of thematic electronically crafted tracks, the lamentable HAL fits alongside a myriad of concerning topics on this new EP. Reynolds consciousness unfolds over a quintet of developed, mindful preoccupations you could say. Finding room to breathe and think in an over-indulged online driven society of distractions and fake news being a main one of those concerns: The Pandora’s box is a hub, and it has been opened. Reynolds navigates, finding a way out through spiritualism and meditation. You can find this coping strategy, an investigation of it, on the EP’s counterbalance of semi-classical and dissonance, ‘Diving Board’: As Reynolds says, “deep breath before taking the plunge.”

As to be expected from a sophisticated palette imbued as much by classical music as it is trance, ambient music and trip-hop, you’ll find a composed set of suites on this expansive EP. The underlying sound of which, on the rest of this EP’s trio of tracks, is a convergence of August Pablo and Amorphous Androgynous dub electronica meets Daniel Lanois, Boards Of Canada and Burial. If you ever wanted to hear what the solar winded chill of ‘The Silent Majority’, marooned out in the starry uncertain expanses of a dismissive woke puritanical hostile banishing committee, sounds like, or, how the plaintive loss of someone held dear might be channelled into a sombre yet beautifully composed elegy (‘Mother’s Day’), then Reynolds latest conscious investigating EP will be a good place to start.  

Richard Von Der Schulenburg  ‘Moods And Dances 2021’
(Bureau B)  29th January 2021

The latest incarnation in a long line of sonic developments for the multifaceted musical explorer Richard Von Der Schulenburg sees the Hamburg scene stalwart venture into Library Music’s golden age: Roughly a point somewhere in the 70s judging by this album’s penchant for Kosmische and early synth productions. More or less a category wide open to include anything from cult composers to brief directed musicians producing incidental, theme music and sonic monikers for commercial enterprises, Library Music also means anything deemed outsider, and is now full of knowing homages, pastiches created by artists in the modern vogue.

Schulenburg since the mid-90s has dallied with the Top Banana Trio and the punkier Soup de Nüll, and also performed organ soirées of Floyd, AC/DC and ABBA songs at one of his many late 90s monthly club nights. He’s also featured in the line-up of Deris Sterne, founded labels and experimented with jazz under the 440Hz Trio ensemble appellation, and in recent years appeared under the abbreviated RVDS initials tag. The latest project is a debut recording of cosmic and worldly analogue and digital traverses and serene imaginings for the Hamburg-based label Bureau B.

During various carefully constructed journeys and geographical evocations, our meditative composer (re)envisions the tropical primitive exotica of Les Baxter, the lush dreamscapes of Ariel Kalma, the synthesized Kosmische sound of Klaus Schulze and Cluster, and more cult kooky space music of Pierre Detour: at least that’s what it sounds like to me. All of which are filtered through the kit that’s often referenced in the album’s titles; the most obvious being the opening ‘Mrs Yamahas Summer Tune’, an oceanic bob through some botanical bamboo music set, accompanied by the tonal washes, synthesized drums and the sort of itchy, brushing tight-delayed percussion found on any number of Yamaha keyboards. A more specific reference is made later on to that company’s ‘DX7’ model, the first successful digital keyboard, and biggest selling. Schulenburg uses that keyboard to waltz in space and curiosity on the plaint romantic Kosmische style ‘DX7’s Broken Hearts’.

It’s the spotting tones of a Farfisa, on the Ethio-Jazz riddle, sand dune contoured and solar-wind blowing ‘Flowers For The Farfisa Sphinx’; a Roland synth’s worth of pre-set effects and oscillations, on the serenade through paradise nocturnal wobbling and warbled ‘Rolands Night Walk’; and the German manufacturer Wersimatic and their CX1 rhythm machine, on the blue Hawaiian dreamy ‘Wersimatic Space Bar’.

Showing perhaps a different collector’s hobby, there’s also a couple of references to analogue cameras: the final model in the Yashica company’s unsuccessful camera series, the ‘Pentamatic’ (‘Caravan Of The Pentamatics’), and the Pentax (‘Dance Of The Space Pentax’); the former, musically speaking, a fantasy traverse of Arabia aboard Cluster’s mother ship, and the latter, dances on a spring board of electronic piano notes towards an Eno imagined South American landscape. Playing in a very sophisticated and extremely knowing way with his sources, inspirations, Schulenburg isn’t so much mischievous as adroit in producing a magical, filmic hologram of escapism. With hints of Library Music, but also a heavy Kosmische presence (Cluster, sky Records, Mythos), touches and shimmery saunters of Ethio-Jazz, and more contemporary peers such as Alex Puddu, Air and Jimi Tenor, this album fits perfectly in the cosmology of Germany’s foremost electronic music label Bureau B. And so rather than a passing fancy, homage or even pastiche, RVDS goes deeper to produce a brilliant sonic mirage of ideas.

Anaximander Fragment  ‘Wagon Drawn Horse’ (Shimmy Disc)

I last heard of Adam G as part of the extraordinary brutalist and discordant Water Fragment sonic project, which pitched Boston noise artist Art Waterman with the New England music scene stalwart on a torrent miasma of concentrated conflict. That album collaboration was, and still is, a challenging caustic barrage of Swans, Coil and Scot Walker imbued mood music.

Under a new, if familiar, moon Adam’s latest cursed-soul expulsion sees the noise and skronk survivor adopting the solo Anaximander Fragment guise for his latest oeuvre. Originally conceived to a Santa Monica backdrop in 2013, Wagon Drawn Horse was meant to be the middle chapter in a trilogy; filed under just one of three different pseudonyms. Unfinished at the time, but now revived, resurrected, this album now crosses over two creative timelines: refreshed, rewritten as it is for an evolving cycle of despair, anguish and political tumult. And of course, the most worrying development of all, the crisis of the last year, Covid-19, can’t help but rear its ugly head. Again, like many records being released in 2020 and the beginning of 2021, there isn’t any recognisable, obvious reference to the pandemic, the lockdowns, but the often-disturbing post-punk, gothic, industrial, noise and psychedelic atmospheres on this record certainly seem to connect and evoke it. I say psychedelic in that list of genres, but what I really mean is Panda Bear detuned and transformed by Einstürzende Neubauten, or, the Red Crayola jamming with The Telescopes; even Rocky Erikson lost in an industrial grinder.

There’s also a conjuncture of those more doom and caustic merging with a vision of alternative vibrato-guitar led country: imagine in this case, Jason Pierce and Charlie Megira sharing a packet of Mogadon. Yes, a country album, even a sleazed rock ‘n’ roll one. A removed one at that, but it’s all there. Though sometimes it feels like Suicide gyrating with The Jesus And Mary Chain, and a Scorpio Rising leathered-up protagonist jukebox jiving in the company of The Fall.

In the despondent, beaten shadow of James Earle Fraser’s End Of The Trail statue, Adam uses both unguarded and a more cryptic lyricism to denounce the effects of colonisation; lament with sinister connotations about a number of muses, “siren(s)”; and riles against apathetic lethargy. That Wagon Drawn Horse title takes on far more damaging meanings when it proves to be the instrument catalyst for the unseemly, even the genocide aspects of the frontier spirit. The final title-track opus curtain-call thrashes and gallops across a devastation of “stolen land” to make a point with grizzled, haunted passages of poetic distress and doom.

A confliction of both assurance and frightening auguries permeate this album. Through a fog of metallic grinding and steel fibre springs, Adam prays and offers a homecoming on the Silver Apples through a chiselling dissonance ‘Metamorphosis’, and pours a gasoline-strong torrid of trauma on the Iggy fronts Velvets ‘Colonised’.   

Almost hypnotised towards the void, yet always pulling away, the Anaximander Fragment demon knows when to throw in a chains-and-leather rock ‘n’ roll hip gyration, and when to ease the industrial tumult. A strong, broody album, Wagon Drawn Horse plays hard with the pioneer myth whilst also brooding and despairing of age-old themes. This somehow makes it an album that chime with current times, drawing from the uncertainty and divisive fragmentation of a pandemic world in freefall.

Sad Man ‘Music Of Dreams And Panic’
(Wormhole World) 29th January 2021

Prolific Techno and potting shed electronic boffin Andrew Spackman has continued to knock out a string of pent-up collections of ennui experiments and sonic collisions during the pandemic. And though nothing on this first burst of energy from the maverick in 2021 makes it obvious, no artist can really avoid the omnipresence, fears, anxiety and uncertainty of Covid-19’s influence and grip. Music Of Dreams And Panic however seems just as much inspired sonically by flights of the imagination and by following improvised pathways: even by just seeing what happens when you take a particular filter, tonal effect to breaking point, or, float, ride on happenstance waves and algorithms. The titles in that regard offer something of a description, inspiration and starting point.

Metal-on-metal, tubular fuel rods and space permeate this album of sophisticated star gate hinge waning and searing mystery. Those often signature colliding beats and breaks are mostly kept in check for something approaching a float, drift in the great expanse. ‘Mugstar’ for example balances moments of Warp Records output and Gescom with 90s Harthouse label Trance on a stellar hyper-driven spectacle in the cosmos: The controlled chaos is still there, with various serial progressions of a sort, throated alien sinister warnings, yet somehow gives way to moments of crystalized serenity. Elsewhere, Spackman (now more or less only running with his Sad Man alter ego) sort of joins together Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Dune on the refraction shinning, whistled high ‘Vin Werski’, and maybe referencing a Heaven 17 meta-inspiration on the static popped percussive, cathedral in the sky, Tangerine Dream turn ‘Seventeen’. Strangest of all, reference wise, is ‘Fra Fra’, which is the colonial name given to a particular number of tribes, concentrated in northern Ghana (also the subject, their funeral songs, of a 2020 Glitterbeat Records album). There’s an odd tweeting of exotic space birds and alien wildlife, but no obvious musical connection.

Still pumping out a transmogrified vision of Techno, Acid, Trip-Hop and Breakbeat, Spackman also crams in some (removed) House Music and Kosmische (a lot of that about lately) too. It seems the despondent guise of Sad Man is producing an ever-expanding range of sonic experimentation. This album in particular seems far less fidgety, though the music is always curiously developing. From garden shed assemblages and synthesized, computerised escapist mind of an art-dance music outsider arrives another unique Techno-driven statement.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Reviews Column
Dominic Valvona

Regular followers may have picked up that my Tickling Our Fancy roundup is mostly an albums heavy affair, and that I’ve tried to post (quite sporadically) a separate singles, EPs, videos and one-offs style column (the Perusal) in the past. Due to the demand and fact that I’m just knackered keeping up, I’m going to try out a new format of sorts, to include everything in one place. With that in mind, there’s new singles from HighSchool, Sebastian Reynolds, and Escupemetralla. And both a performance excerpt and EP from the Jerusalem sludge rock outfit Andarta.

Albums wise we have the long-player debut from agit-soul-punk ensemble Iklan, epic45 ruminate with a wash of rural House indie and nostalgic gauzy tones on their new album Cropping The Aftermath; a most experimental overlap of Afro-Caribbean and Panamanian jazz from the dynamic Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes union (a side excursion to their part in the Irreversible Entanglements quintet); and John Lane, as the menagerie A Journey Of Giraffes, soundtracks a mindful escape on his latest suite for Somewherecold Records, Sunshine Pilgrim Map. Also, we have Spacelab on a mission to delve through alien soundscapes and mischievous foolery on their new oeuvre Kaleidomission, and Blang Records celebrate fifteen years in the business with another label compilation of maverick antifolk, punk, indie and underpass soul.

Singles.

Escupemetralla ‘I Always Reivindico El Nail Art’
3rd October 2020

You can try to describe and explain the crazy that is the organism, organization, the fiendish underground hub of the disturbing avant-garde and experimental, the makers of sound bites and broadcasts, the damned hub that is Escupemetralla (Spanish we’re assured for “spits shrapnel”) but no one can quite put it like those anonymous miscreants themselves. Just take a gander at this following description for the nail painting muse single ‘I Always Reivindico El Nail Art’.

“Our new track benefits from the wonderful collaboration of the sublime, immeasurable and chiripitifláutica plutonic artist known as Rosalía, muse of surrealism since Salvador Dalí walked her half dressed in Granollers (province of Barcelona) on the back of a giant plastic camel in one of his well-known happenings of the ‘60s. After her glittering appearances in corpore glutinoso at the Latin-Chichimeca Kilogrammy Awards and her yelling participation in some plumbeous works by illustrious rappers, trappers, folk singers and flamenco artists of every moral and amoral nature, our singer blesses us with her archangelic presence in this melodic song by Escupemetralla, with whom she has signed an exclusive contract for the next four or five years.

Ever since Dalí roared that famous mantra, “Booterrflaí, booterrflaí” [that is, “Butterfly, butterfly” as pronounced by a Spaniard not trying to sound British] live on TV, only Rosalía managed to condense so much chestnut-flavored Spanglish into a single sentence: “I always reivindico el nail art” [that is, “I always vindicate nail art”]. With this phrase she revealed to us once and for all the sources from which she draws the inspiration with which she commits her outrages: Fu Manchu, Freddy Kruger and Edward Scissorhands.”

I don’t believe a word of it. But who cares when such disturbing Fangoria nightmarish hallucinatory surrealisms sound this great. A perfect fantasy in time for Halloween.

Sebastian Reynolds ‘Diving Board’
(Faith & Industry) 9th October 2020

In the run-up to next year’s Nihilism is Pointless EP (released 29th January 2021), the highly prolific Oxford-based polymath keyboard player, pianist, producer and label owner Sebastian Reynolds is releasing a number of singles from this evocatively sweeping and sophisticated multi-layering suite during 2020. The first of which is the semi-classical quivery swelled spatial drama with moments of grinded and sparked dissonance ‘Diving Board’.

Following on from his recent The Universe Remembers EP – a philosophical, religious and metaphysical cosmological junction of dystopian literature and Buddhist Eschatology – and the incredibly personal stand-alone single ‘Heartbeat/My Mother Was The Wind’, Reynolds once more sends out the mind-expanding frequencies, channeling, as he puts it, “…the altered states of consciousness experienced through meditation, cold water exposure and prayer, it represents the deep breath before taking the plunge.”

Nihilism is Pointless and the new single are being released via producer Capitol K’s Faith & Industry label, the release platform for Capitol K’s output as well as John Johanna, Blue House, Thomas Nation (all three of which have featured on the MC and made our “choice” albums of the year) and Champagne Dub.

Expect a full review in due course next year.

See also…

Sebastian Reynolds ‘The Universe Remembers’  (here..)

HighSchool ‘New York, Paris And London’
(Dalliance Recordings) 16th October 2020

After making a splash with their debut broody bounced and hazed Joy Division meets The Cure debut single ‘Frosting’, the effortlessly cool Melbourne duo have signed to the UK label Dalliance Recordings for the aloof triple-cities of culture entitled follow-up, New York, Paris And London. Exuberating a kind of bonus-of-youth with states of indolent dependency, the post-punk naval gazers explore the “pendulum that swings between social anxiety and elation” on this languorous new single that bares hints of The Smiths, Strokes and, again, The Cure.

The single was recorded by noted engineer Naomune Anzai (Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, The Teskey Brothers) and mastered by Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control) – the Total Control reference there making perfect sense when you listen back to New York, Paris And London. Anyway I think they’re bloody great; and I’m quite excited about what they’ll release next.

See also…

HighSchool ‘Frosting’  (here…)

Andarta ‘Live at Studio Straus (an excerpt)’
‘ST’ EP

More miscellaneous then single/album whatever, I just had to share this incredible dark, grinding, thrashing lumbering concentration of dragging doom from the holy center of the impending Biblical Armageddon, Jerusalem. Andarta, which sort of means memorial statue in Hebrew, is a causal union of friends corralled by local label honcho and drummer Itai Anker. Here I’ve included them in live mode and the link to their most recent EP. The spoils of one of their most recent ritual interactions are expressed as a weaponized vision of morbidly curious early Bad Seeds, Swans and dark metal sludge. 

ALBUMS..

Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes ‘Heritage Of The Invisible II’
(International Anthem) October 23rd 2020

Channeling a combination of Panamanian and Afro-Caribbean heritages, the trumpet and percussionist duo of Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes come on like an abstract Latin version of the Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell union with their experimental jazz partnership. A side excursion, exploration from the duo’s membership of the burgeoning freewheeling avant-garde quintet Irreversible Entanglements, the Navarro-Holmes combo brings a partnership that began and took root when the two were studying at the New England Conservatory back together for an untethered gyration, contortion of “existential joy”. For this is a sort of escapism from the Irreversible mood of political angst and dissonant freefalling for something approaching improvised “jubilance”. 

Navarro and Holmes feed off their polygenesis upbringings and travails with a sound imbued by the luminaries of the Panama jazz and Latin scenes, the experimental doyens of America’s Mid-West and East Coast, and the Caribbean; all of which sprung or progressed from Africa. Navarro, who’s principle instrument is the trumpet but also proves a deft touch on the upright piano (like a saloon style Oscar Peterson), Moog and Juno synths, was born in Toronto; his family uprooted from their Panama home during the murky Manuel Noriega chapter, the fall out of which saw America invade the Central American canal corridor in the late 80s. He proved a real talent, studying with compatriot trumpeter and Fania All Stars luminary Victor “Vitan” Paz and composer, saxophonist Carlos Garnett. Holmes meanwhile was born into the Pan-African community of Brooklyn; revolving around the spiritual Ausar Auset Society and his family’s Bennu Auser Dance Company. The blossoming energetic drummer, percussionist was encouraged to study by his cultural arts programmer mum and classically trained pianist uncle (and this is where the two crossover) from Panama.  Both future explorers of contemporary jazz would meet in Boston whilst studying, forming a congruous union that holds together an amorphous dynamism of the strung-out and incipient.

Sparring at different intensities, speeds and signatures the duo keep various off-the-grid tangents, visions, together; combining acoustic improvisation with overdubs of synth, vocals, additional instrumentation and recurring snatches of musing conversations. Some of this comes from a guest list that includes the Spanish poet Marcos de la Fuente, pianist Nick Sanders (who plays a Thelonious style jazzy blues mosey on the album’s honky-tonk and Savoy label roll back ‘M.O.N.K (Most Only Never Know)’), Panamanian “mejuranero” (a folkloric five-string chordophone carved from a single block of wood) player Ricardo de León, and the soulful tripping vocalist Brigitte Zozula. A further guest spot arrives in the form of an Autechre-crosses-streams-with-DJ Shadow acid gauzy Techno transformation from the Philly-based composer and electronic artist Madam Data.  A barest semblance of the duo can be heard in a repeating loop to infinity that echoes throughout a wobbly warping dance mix of pulsing futurism.

The rest of this album features profound poetics reverberating in a play-off between Holmes thrashing rolling tight breaks, cymbal splashes, rattles and twills and Navarro’s blurts, spirals, airy ascendancy and short, repeated bursts. The opening meditational reading pitches Gurumanix and Kosmische undertows of slithery acid-synth against “unstructured” Cecil Taylor. And on the “celebration of life” framed optimistic augur of hope and unity, ‘Pueblo’, a lilted Latin Herb Albert teams up with Don Cherry. It’s a constant shifting balance of falling and less chaotic, more rhythmic sparring.

Empirical memories and reverberations of recognizable voice, instrumentation in the most abstracted passages merge with tightened pliable performances. Technically brilliant; pushing at the perimeters without losing the listener, the duo have an exceptional feel and relationship, guiding as they do, each other towards such recondite extremes of experimentation and articulation.

Lending the language of the avant-garde jazz of their heritage, the “invisible” people whose contributions to the form and beyond go largely unnoticed, emerge to inspire this impressive album; a sort of Clouddead of jazz every bit as progressive and interesting as their contributions to the Irreversible project. Whilst that unit’s live tour has been put on hold, a pandemic-imposed reality has concentrated the minds of the duo and given them space to experiment and follow a different path: A really clever one at that.

epic45 ‘Cropping The Aftermath’
(Wayside & Woodland Recordings) 23rd October 2020

From those stuck-in-the-sticks bedroom music dreamers epic45, another expansive gauzy soundtrack of translucent gazing and pastoral electronica dance music with whiffs of nostalgia and ruminations on the, all too quick, passing of time. Yes, Ben Holton, Rob Glover and long-term collaborator James Yates articulate an abstract longing for less dreadful times with a wash of diaphanous atmospherics, radiant House music sparkles, Bloc Party indie breakbeats and trance.

Framed, at least in the promotional email, as a kind of trip back down memory lane, the roots, blossoming of epic45’s inception – a creative escapism from the boredom of life in the middle-of-nowhere – in the 90s starts the ball rolling with reminiscing tones. Musically the lads evoke a redolent soundboard of 808 State, Bowie’s more downbeat moments on Earthling, the softened lingering’s of the Durutti Column guitar, shoegazing and the Aphex Twin. That’s some spread, and one that’s wrapped up in a lush dreamy drift of both the audibly and more hushed whispered, reverberated meanderings and heartened sensibilities of the vocalized sentiments. 

The second project from epic45 in 2020, Cropping The Aftermath continues with the sonic scenic illusions of their We Were Never Here photo book; snapshots and longer gazes from the past, entwined with moods transduced into shimmery mirages and rainstorms. Feeling at times like another summer of love, there’s a real sense of that late 80s club and indie sound so beloved of Madchester: radient-House you could call it. ‘Garage Days’ actually sounds like the band remixing themselves on an acid-soaked glide of oceanic techno, ghostly vocal traces and electronic bobbing toms. Those Bloc Party-esque indie breakbeat drums busily work away (sometimes venturing into d’n’b and even jazz) throughout the album as the washes and gossamer synthesized orbiting shimmers and sweeps waft around in the foreground. There’s a moment when it even all evokes a kind of Ibiza indie mirage; the sort Tim Burgess has been found to swim around in.

In between we have those lingered pastoral sets. As the name obviously suggests, ‘Waking Up In A Field’ is full of chirping morning bird choruses and the dewy sounds of, well, a field, but interspersed with fleeting reversal effects and a synthesized come-down.

The passing of time and the profound acknowledgement of reaching middle age with all its realizations is a right inevitable bastard to wrestle with. But few manage to fit it in such a picturesque soundtrack of gauzy, hazy yearnings. As that old adage goes: don’t grow up, it’s a con (or words to that affect). epic45 have come a long way since those bedroom music making days, yet that early wonder, hunger and camaraderie in hasn’t diminished one bit; the lads pushing the envelope as ever with a flair for producing minor rural electronic yearnings of profound veiled beauty.   

Iklan ‘Album Number 1’
(Soulpunk) 19th October 2020

Despite the attitude and volatility, this assembled cast of pissed-off musical malcontents sounds surprisingly controlled and soulful when chucking a proverbial Molotov into the current incendiary mix of division and pandemic.

Under the collective platform of Iklan, Mercury Prize winning producer and four-decade-plus stalwart of the underground music scene Timothy London, singer-nurse Law Holt and, on backing vocals, 90s one-hit wonders Jacqui and Pauline Cuff (aka the Leith Congregational Choir and before that “Hippychick” hitsters Soho) come together to fire off sonic and verbal broadsides at the current shower. For his part, London brings a sophisticated edgy production of tetchy, piston tapping Trip-Hop, House and both synth-pop and synth-sinister to the mix, whilst Holt brings fire and soul in equal measures; switching from meandrous spiky R&B to rap. Accentuating or punctuating those vocals, the Cuffs offer a suffused chorus that sometimes borders on dark cyber-gospel.

The name of the label for this venture coins the group’s sound well: “soulpunk”. It certainly has the spirit of punk (and post-punk for that matter), and is extremely, despite the rhetoric ad flippant birdfinger “fuck u”, delivered with a soulful wandering pitch.  Despondent as much as incandescent with rage, Iklan come across as a kind of subtle TV On The Radio. Better still, Young Fathers – which isn’t surprising as Law has appeared with the Edinburgh group on a number of occasions and is part of that capital’s much-talked about scene. You could also throw in FKA Twigs, Tamar Kaman (of the Van Allen Belt), Tricky and even a wallowing, more foreboding version of tune-yards to that list. Though the Iklan sound is a mostly ominous one, full of futuristic dystopian warpings and woozy despondency; wrapped up in a subtle deep groove and staggered sound bed of meticulously techy beats, buzzes, sirens and metallic percussion: A record that looms large in the stairwell of a broken estate, yet shakes, dances and thumps with a f-bomb littered fury that proves far more articulate and rhythmic than you’d expect.

Law struts as much as riles in encapsulating her daily life experiences as a young black woman and nurse in the increasingly hostile environment of a pandemic gripped city – there’s even lyrical references to a shooting. It’s antipop in a way; the message delivered in a velvet gauntlet of R&B infused rioting. An album fit for the times we’re living through.

Also see..

Iklan ‘Suffer 2’ Single (here…)

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Sunshine Pilgrim Map’
(Somewherecold Records) 23rd October 2020

From the very beginning of the Monolith Cocktail a decade ago, the career of the sonic explorer John Lane seems to have tied in with our own development: from the very first Beach Boys lo fi seashell bedroom symphonies of John’s first submission to the blog under the Expo moniker, through to his ever more experimental peregrinations under the menagerie A Journey Of Giraffes, and his most recent blossoming releasing music with the Somewherecold label.

His homage love Haiku to Susumu Yokota Kona album and ambitious atavistic Caucasus purview Armenia probably two of his best ambient oeuvres both arrived with little fanfare in the last year. His fourth, and diaphanous, album for that label is no less impressive: an “archipelago of the mind” evoking sunshine pilgrimage, soundtracked by the tropics and fantastical.  

Drifting across a translucent ocean to a virtual oasis, John lures the listener away from the pandemic suffocation of reality. As castaways in our own thoughts, pilgrims to, perhaps, an as yet unspoiled island, we’re submerged in a gently unfurled soundscape of mystery; an ambient wash of mirror-y love letters to Bamboo music and Sokamoto, metallic industrial scored dramas and weather reports. It’s a microcosm of Japanese referenced sparks of inspiration, profound philosophical island paradise references and contemplation; a world in which idiosyncratic oriental art forms (“Kintsugi”, the art of replacing broken pottery of all things) and fortune cookies crumble into a Bermudan dreamy islet, probed by a Kosmische accompanied submersible dive into the depths of the cerebral.

Pitched between the golden radiance of Laraaji and the more mysterious ghostly soundtracks of Brian Reitzell, there’s also a nod to John’s Brian Wilson influence, with a transformed vision of Pet Sounds acid-tropical tremolo, vibrato and shaking percussion signature on the album’s finale, ‘Asana The Giant’.

Tunneled drones, submerged obscured marine life, oriental chimes, crystallizations, rain patters on metal surfaces, moist droplets, cyclonic vapours, rolling storm clouds, glassy scribbles, insect chatter all converge to form a most subtly mindful safe zone: a hideaway from the real world. How John can continue to be overlooked in the world of ambient and experimental music is beyond me. He seriously deserves recognition, support and above all else, credit. I can only help continuing to spread the word. Get on the Sunshine Pilgrim tour and discover for yourselves.

See also…

Expo ‘She Sells Seashells’ (here…)

A Journey Of Giraffes ‘Sandy Point’ (here…

‘Kona’  (here…

Spacelab ‘Kaleidomission’
(Wormhole Records/HREA-M Recordings) 16th October 2020

A sort of Faust Tapes of out-of-context dialogue samples, fucked-with drum breaks and Kosmische otherworldliness, the new experimental album from Spacelab runs through a thirty-nine spanning track list of fleeting incipient ideas and the strange. Some of which last less time than it takes to pronounce the title. There’s even tracks that seem to exist purely for their visual mirrored effect on Soundcloud: The piques of the reversed then switched back around ‘Goodbye’ creating a nice symmetrical image. 

“The soundtrack to an extra-terrestrial journey from a time unknown”, Kaleidomission runs and also peruses a both thoughtful and more oft-hand exploration of minimalism, ambient and cosmic dreamy space music. Early traces of Popol Vuh (before the heavens parted era), Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Mythos and, well, a Kosmische(olgy) of inter-dimensional travellers can be heard permeating this galaxy quest.  There’s even a title nod to those miscreants of Krautrock and beyond, Faust (‘We Love Faust’) that kind of orbits their sphere of magic box sonic experimentation: Spacelab’s homage features a repeating timeless acoustic guitar motif that echoes against a rising and falling away ambient field of melodious illusions. 

Those titles more or less sum up the intention behind each of these acid tripping film dialogue snatches, majestic floats through the heavens, crystal mirages and more cartoon scores. Some act as a breather, whilst other leaps out of a mystique void. There are also spells of a supernatural kind (an obvious one, ‘Trick The Devil’) to be found in the album’s darker recesses.  

From lunar caves to magic woods, astral gateways and the fatuous, Spacelab prove sonically creative and mischievous in producing a cosmology of investigation worthy of attention. It’s Kosmische music but not quite as we know it.  

Various ‘Scratchcard’
(Blang Records) 16th October 2020

An anti-establishment of malcontents and those without a musical home, the Blang label, as purveyors of the “antifolk” scene, has offered sanctuary and comradeship for cross-generational bands and artists like the psych rock ’n’ roll maverick Tav Falco and cult London troupe David Cronenberg’s Wife.

Fifteen years on from their inaugural heralding release, the 2005 compilation Fruit Machine, Blang celebrate with an anniversary year that includes a takeover of Soho Radio, an “outsider music” documentary bio and compilations.  One of those compilations, Scratchcard, marks the label’s most recent five-year plan, from 2016 to a laborious pandemic 2020.

Not quite the punt ad promise of riches that go with that scratchcard title, this fifteen-track collection offers an amble through the modern austerity shitshow equivalent of a dole queue 80s British underground music scene: a bit of sneering; some snot rock; doses of despondent naval-gazing indie; post-punk dislocation; rebel country attitude; and kitchen sink estate dramas. The sort you’ll find on David Cronenberg’s Wife’s introductory opener ‘Suli’s House’: a wrangling Link Wray guitar led ditty that disarms with its country sway and twang a sorrowful step-by-step guide to shooting up heroin.

Originally an extension of Blang’s infamous monthly nights at the now defunct London Westend spot, The 12 Bar Club, and inspired by the NYC East Village antifolk scene of Moldy Peaches and Jeffrey Lewis (a scene that sprung from the also now defunct Sidewalk Café), the label has become a much cherished and liked platform. That antifolk raison d’etre has since expanded to include anything the Yorkshire hub sees fit to give an airing; anything that is which falls beneath the DIY ascetic, or rather as they call it (in broad Yorkshire accents) “DIT”: “Do it thissen”.

I’ve personally featured quite a few of their roster; though only a handful considering the size of the catalogue (a 100 plus release so far). Many of which feature on this compilation, including the already mentioned DCW with their despondent and sardonic witty rich The Octoberman Sequence in 2018. But there’s also the agit-rabble of Sergeant Buzfuz, whose horrible histories Pope bashing Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself opus made my choice albums of 2012. Here they offer a Parisian staged modern tale of deceit and resignation with the XTC meets Richard Hell in Montparnasse ‘Fill In The Blanks’.

Popping up back in February of this year on the blog, Extradition Order delivered a musical vision of the Oppenheimer story with their American Prometheus album (a definite pick for this year’s choice features). From that impressive mini-opus, the Warrington group is represented by the Tamela Motown channeled Style Council and B52s swooning lament, ‘Baby, What Have You Done For Me Lately?

The Awkward Silences in a different guise appeared on the blog back in 2016 with the brilliant white-funk no wave Outsider Pop album. Here they are closing the collection with a transmogrified Talking Heads (if played by The Futureheads or Bloc Party) blast of narrated self-realization and a poignant tale of death, mourning.

Joining that lot are the Joan Jett attitude stomping and rattling, former Fall members outfit Brix & The Extricated (‘Something To Lose’); an idiosyncratic Casio chiming, pulsing Yoni Wolf like Seth Faergolzia (‘Wait For The Beep’); the do “fuck all” all day bandy Deptford post-punk meeting of a roguish Blockheads, geezer Renegade Soundwave and Dandy Warhols Jack Medley’s Secure Men (‘Taking Care Of Business’); and the Graham Greene reimagined as an end of a seaside holiday midlife crisis, played out by a noir Squeeze and Turtles, Trailer Crash (‘Brighton Rock’).

Other worthy mentions include the all-round cult talent and already mentioned in my opening paragraph, Tav Falco, who gets his drugstore cowboy Sir Douglas Quintet version of the Stax soul-snap ‘Tramp’ (retitled as ‘Tram?’) on the comp: A grizzled, cool fuck you of unrepentant redneck swagger. If the promise of miscreant, social political upstarts making fucked-up country, folk, indie and punk (and even badly-lit underpass soul; courtesy of Milk Kan’s ‘My Baby’s Gone Viral On The Brain’) grabs you, then get a load of this concentration of disgruntled reprobates. Raise a toast, better still buy the bloody CD or download it you tight ungrateful urchins. Here’s to another fifteen years of true musical independence!

See also…

David Cronenberg’s Wife ‘The Octoberman Sequence’ (here…)

Sergeant Buzfuz ‘Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself’ (here…)

Extradition Order ‘American Prometheus’ (here…)

Paul Hawkins And The Awkward Silences ‘Outsider Pop’  (here…)

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Reviews Galore
Words: Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea





The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’ and just in the last month, The King Of No-Fi album. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations


Bruce Springsteen ‘Letter To You’
(Columbia Records) Title Track/Available Now


What a glam slam stomper of a hi energy dance around your handbag floor filler this new single is: a disco ball of sex and glitter. Only joking. No what we have here is the new song by Mr Boss himself Bruuuuuuuuuuuce Springsteen and yes it sounds like you would expect a slow paced Bruce Springsteen single to sound like, slow paced and Bruce like, which I’m not saying is a bad thing: if you love Bruce Springsteen you will love this, if you hate Bruce you will still hate him, and if you have no opinion on him this will not sway you either way. I quite like Bruce, so I quite like this.






This Is The Kit ‘Coming To Get You Nowhere’
Single/Out there now




Curse This Is The Kit, I was going to spend the afternoon catching up with my reviewing duties but instead I have been losing myself in the magic and wonder of This is The kit’s Youtube outpourings instead: this beautiful new single leading me astray into their wonderful and magical land of musical splendour of a back catalogue. Curse you and this new single! Yes is as magical as their other outpourings; fine stuff indeed.






Lizzy Young ‘Obvious’
Single/Available Now





I love this. It has a dark humour and a piano sound that reminds me of Captain Scarlet, which is what one wants from a short blast of a tossed away sass of a single; a blast of devil may care boredom and disinterest that runs through this way too short 3-minute pop gem. But that is far too obvious.






Beauty Stab ‘Beauty Stab’
EP/8th September 2020




Last month Beauty Stab released what I called “single of the year” with sublime erotically art synth pop beauty that is the lead off track from this new EP, French Film Embrace. So you would think that would be the highlight. Well how wrong you would be; this 4 tracker is one long highlight.

The already previously reviewed ‘French Film Embrace’ is indeed a beauty with a bass riff that sounds like a matador reliving the sexual wanderings of his youth. Next up is ‘The Rain’, a track that’s melodramatic post punk synth 60s pop genius, part John Leyton ‘Johnny Remember Me’, part Southern Death Cult, part Soft Cell; a track that is as camp as a row of tents and as dark as the darkest of nights: another pure pop gem.

The 3rd track ‘Protégé’ shows the other side of the band, the more experimental and art pop side, that they cradle with a gentle beauty only the gentle of soul truly possess. The Final track is ‘O Eden’, which was their debut single that was released on Metal postcard Records last year but in a remixed form, and a track that has not lost any of its heart breaking beauty, is a synth ballad to end all other synth ballads. Dan proving once again he is the rightful successor to Scott Walker with a truly outstanding vocal, this should have been all over the radio last year.

So hopefully with its reappearance on this EP that will be put right. An EP of true pop genius in a time when we need EPS of true pop genius more than any other.




See also…

Beauty Stab Interview (with Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea) (here)

‘O Eden’ Review  (here)



Deepfake Moneybomb ‘Deepfake Moneybomb’
Album/8th September 2020




There is a Randy Newman feel about this album that I like. I have always had a thing for music when you can hear the performer arch his eyebrows and I certainly think Deepfake Moneybomb is arching both brows on this joy ride of subtle adventure. This is a songwriter who knows long words and is not afraid to use them. A man who is not going to dumb himself down so some knucklehead Oasis fans can swig their larger and belch and fart along to his quickie sci-fi folk songs.

We really need artists like Deepfake Moneybomb in these days of blandness and disease to offer us his quirky outlook on love and life and quantum mechanics. This album is an example of the DIY bedroom recording culture at its very best and has me wanting to go and dig out my Charles Douglas CDs and lose myself in laid-back home-recorded pure musical invention.






The Amplifier Heads ‘Music For Abandoned Amusement Parks’
Album/9th September 2020




A new album by The Amplifier Heads is always something to look forward to, for you are always guaranteed sublime melodies beautiful lyrics and the magic spell of true rock n roll invention. Part XTC part Cleaner From Venus but mostly The Amplifier Heads psych power pop and guitar jangle meet in an album of melancholic nostalgia songs recalling the end of the summer’s past.

This 14-song album is a concept album of sorts with as mentioned the “Abandoned Amusement Arcade” being a metaphor for the passing of youth and your memories of it. So, songs of youthful abandon and abandoned youth are covered quite beautifully; leaving one with the same feeling one has after watching George Lucas’s masterpiece American Graffiti.

Music for Abandoned Amusement Parks is the perfect album to soundtrack the oncoming Autumn/Winter months and anyone with a love for guitar and melody this album is a must have.






Salem Trials ‘Fear For Whatever Comes Next’
Album/Available Now




So the third album of the year by the most exciting guitar band of 2020 arrives and once again with little fanfare, slipping it out on their Bandcamp, and once again proving how unfair this rock n roll malarkey is as the very average Fontaine D.C. achieve all kinds of sales and critical ravings are heaped upon them. This fine album songs of Buzzcock like panache and excitement mixed with early experimental escapades of Barrett’s Pink Floyd and early 80s Fall and full on Beefheart shenanigans will no doubt go by unnoticed.

This is the true sound of the guitar underground. This is where the magic is kept. This is what should be what is coming out of your radio when you turn it on after 9pm. This album sounds like a best of John Peel radio show. This is the true alternative and just how wonderful the true alternative sounds.




See also…

Salem Trials ‘Do Something Dangerous’ Album Review  (here)



Nicky William ‘Pathetic Fuck’
Single/28th August 2020




A funky little offering from Nicky William, who goes all dandy on us, with a short and sweet dark swipe at his own character traits. A strange subject matter I suppose, but one that needs exploring and indeed he does explore it in the two minutes 15 seconds this little gem spins around your head, with its drum beats, flutes and “oooh” backing vocals. A fine track, and one that’s taken from his forthcoming EP.



Album Reviews Galore
Words: Dominic Valvona





An eclectic array of reviews, Dominic Valvona’s long-running Tickling Our Fancy column aims to cast the net wide, choosing a diverse collection of recent and upcoming releases for your perusal.

This month’s selection includes two special reissues, the first, the cross-pollinating “Azerbaijani Gitara” music of the late Caucasus legend Rüstəm Quliyev, the second, a beatific Gnawa set of recordings from the late esteemed Moroccan master Maalam Mahmoud Gania.

I also have a gander at the fantastical anthropologist ambient tape from the shrouded Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony, and a new album of sun-dappled affirmations from the Beach Boys imbued pastoral recluse Mike Gale. There’s the American three-piece Pons, who launch a torrid of punk and indie-dance mayhem on the unsuspecting public with their debut album, Intellect. From the prolific Hamburg label of experimental electronica, there’s a new reggae-imbued techno suite from Schlammpeitziger, and a very special project from the renowned producer Ian Brennan, his most personal yet, the Sheltered Workshop Singers (perhaps the first recording of its type anywhere). And finally, Esbe takes us on an Egyptian and Sufi India fantasy with her new synthesised album, Saqqara.


Pons ‘Intellect’
(Stick ’n’ Move Records) Album/17th September 2020




A volatile chaos that is remarkably tactile in places, the blossoming erratic American trio of Pons throw everything into their debut album Intellect. The culmination of various mischievous bombardments and jerked dances on a slew of EPs and singles, from a band that first formulated their blueprint in North Carolina in 2018 before relocating a year later to Virginia, this paranoid hectic and ridiculous fully realised long-player whips up a torrid of unhinged energy.

Reminding me of that first White Denim album, yet coarser and heavier, Intellect is full of ideas in what, by now, is a worn cross-section of post-punk and garage related genres. From the off though, you know this is going to be something else; a diy friction of scuzzed garage/skate/doom punk that creeps as much towards the Gothic as it does towards indie-dance.

They set us up with a reverberated, eerie lead-in of “we got a winner” samples and bird squawks, then roll pendulously into an harassed vision of The Stooges ripping it outta the Talking Heads before speed-freaking style riffing on Liquid Liquid, Ludus, Essential Logic and The Black Lips: Phew! Suck that up.

An ennui of rhythms, time changes and moods flip constantly between intense mania and more limbering no-wave downtown NYC Keith Herring doodled electro-funk. ‘Primal Urge’ is just that: a primal doom quickened, kettle rolling grunt of 80s Californian punk. ‘Jimmy Two-Dimes’ fucks up brilliantly The Strokes, and even, smashes up the NY Dolls and Suicide. But if we’re talking of real concentrated madness, ‘Dick Dastardly’ runs that cartoon scoundrel through a gruff free fall of James Chance, Ornate Coleman (yeah imagine that!) and space rock.

Funhouse Teenage Shutdowns, Nuggets garage gets roughed up on ‘Fabrication’, and Black Randy fights it out with The Electric Eels on the paranoia enclosing ‘Polly’s Hotel’. Single ‘Subliminal Messages’ takes a different musical route entirely; the advertiser slated consumerist nightmare limbers onto a dancefloor occupied by Disco Drive, Gang Gang Dance and Juan MacClean. ‘I See My Name In Lights’ bastardizes Electric 6, DAF, the Italian proto-punk dance miscreants Halleluah!, Renegade Soundwave and Death Grips: perhaps a touch of a synth-punk Beastie Boys.

What a record. I’m not sure I could really argue that the Pons are doing anything particularly new. Yet Intellect has quickly enthralled and excited me. Subtle meets the hardliners, as the bonus of youth drudges, sludges and drums up a vortex of generation X and boomer credulity. Nothing short of a brilliant noise, energy directed for the benefit of all, a glorious skewered and deranged indie-dance album of punk snot petulance and fun.




Mike Gale ‘The Star Spread Indefinite’
Album/25th September 2020




The former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nelson instigator Mike Gale may have retired from performing live some time ago now, but he’s still been highly prolific in recording. Using his trusty 32-track TASCAM cassette recorder, in just the last 18 months Gale has released the Pacific Ocean lulled sorrowed album, Summer Deluxe, a recent compilation of (far from) unfinished works and B-side paeans and breezes entitled B, C, D Side Volume 1, and a lockdown mini-album, Sunshine For The Mountain God. And now with this latest acoustic-led songbook, Gale furnishes us with the astral dreamy entitled The Star Spread Indefinite.

That cosmological title was found amongst his recent reading material, in Justin Hopper’s The Old Weird Albion. In one particular section, the uncovering of an ancient piece of artwork, scratched into the wall of a flint mine in Sussex triggered a beautiful starry-poetic response from the discoverer who found and named it. As a poetic prompt it brings Gale out of the melancholy of lockdown into a most dreamy state of reflection. And in his most lulled, drifting ruminating moments, balances a languid sense of yearning despondency with a peaceable message of positive affirmation for our near-miraculous existence.

The Monolith Cocktail was lucky enough to share the album’s precursor video-track (created by Jussi Virkkumaa) recently, ‘Go Help’: A tropical-lilted wistful tiptoe sauntering, and disarming disconsolate bobbing continuation of the plaintive beachcomber Beach Boys sound that has permeated the reclusive polymath’s output for a number of years. That means more of those lulled layered harmonies and the present lingering presence of a distant lapping tide. Though Gale lends an English pastoral bent to the Beach Boys California beach combing romanticisms. You can hear it clearly on the 70s AM radio dial wash ‘Stripped Sunlight’, which has an air of the SMiLE era about it.

Elsewhere in his harmonious gauzy hushed way, Gale evokes the Laurel Canyon dappled loveliness of Marc Eric, a beachside relocated epic45 and Roger Bunn on the sweetly synthesized golden ray affirmation ‘This Year’. The starry lush ‘Pastel Coloured Warm’, with its bahbahbah lilting chorus, hints at a meeting between the Go-Betweens and Prefab Sprout. Albeit a less sparse version, Gale also channels the spirit of Sparklehorse throughout this often-gossamer songbook. There’s also an easing into the Yacht Rock genre and the 80s phaser-effect and dry-ice cool of Phil Collins to provide a softened pop feel to some of the washes.

With soothing élan and shimmery dreaminess, Gale aches and wistfully fights through the disappointment, knock backs and anxiety to lift himself above it all with repeated mantras of “I’ll get my wish”, or, “This year I’m going to make it.” Let’s hope he does make it, as Gale is a fine musician and songwriter. The Star Spread Indefinite confirms that.





See also…

Mike Gale ‘Go Help‘ Premiere 

Sweet Marie‘ 

B,C,D Sides Volume 1

Summer Deluxe‘ 




Schlammpeitziger ‘Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer’
(Bureau B) Album/25th September 2020




After previously unconsciously composing a kind of reggae and dub vision of Kraut-tronica over nine albums, Cologne stalwart of thirty years Jo Zimmermann has decided to now consciously meld those genres to his quirky lilt of electronic music on the tenth album, Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer (for those needing a translation, that’s “a world leak in the echo chamber”).

It wasn’t, we’re told, until Zimmermann’s friend and ‘reggae expert’ Bettina Lattak remarked upon the composer, illustrator and performance artist’s oblivious use of those Caribbean flavours that it all suddenly clicked. And for this latest electro-fusion, fun, radiant, bouncing and sub-tropical suite, he, unabashed, tinkers almost effortlessly with a reggae sound stripped of context, history and religion: Just the feel, vibe and resonance. In practice this results in dubby warbled bass and echo, limbering gaited rhythms and a laid-back candour. There’s even a lilted saunter of steel drums to be heard, bobbing away on the tropical soulful electro-funk ‘Handicapfalter’.

That relaxed sound and sway – bordering on sun-bleached escapism – is counterbalanced by electro-cool starry synths, industrial metallic scuttles and a sophisticated layering of synthesized toms, kick-drums and polygons. It’s a sound that transduces label mates Station 17 and Clap! Clap!, a more languid Dunkelziffer, Holgar Czukay and Kraftwerk into a kind of Krautrock Compass Points Allstars, or, a futurist Marvin Gaye produced by a late 70s post-punk erring Eno. The itching percussive space-y tweeting ‘Tanzfußfalle’ seems to have invited Air, Psycho & Plastic and International Pony onto a dancefloor. That Kraftwerk namedrop evidently is a given. Zimmermann, trading under his longstanding Schlammpeitziger persona, references the Baroque harpsichord neo-classical Trans-European Express suite ‘Spiegelsaal’ (or ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ as most of us know it) on his own mirrored trans-alpine refracted Oompah magic ‘Hüftgoldpolka’. Imbued with the Dusseldorf unit’s own spell-casting allusions on fame and image, Zimmermann leads a merry dance of his own.

There are of course some serious moments on what is essentially a tempered subtle pleasant soundtrack of understated techno, Kosmische and dance music. In what is a newish development, on this the second release for Bureau B, Zimmermann takes to singing; adding a cryptic whimsy and curiosity of half-narrated and humming, sighing and despondent lyricism to a number of tracks.

A warping, bended and sometimes crystalline, sometimes rattling, reggae-light sonic quirk, Ein Weltleck In Der Echokammer seems to offer a bright window into another world; a ladder out of the echo chamber towards a nice suffusion of Germanic electronic escapism.






Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘Who You Calling Slow?’
Album/18th September 2020




Used to travelling around the globe as the inconspicuous in-the-field recordist and in-situ producer, Ian Brennan has made a critically acclaimed career out of recording some of the most persecuted, ignored and neglected communities: from an Albinism refuge in Tanzania to the Abatwa pygmies of Rwanda and the victims of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. It’s a varied career; with projects as diverse as the Malawi Mouse Boys film score that never was to recording the prisoners of that same country’s maximum-security facility in Zomba.

Yet all of those projects share Ian’s overriding raison d’être, as laid out in his brilliantly engaging How Music Dies (Or Lives) tome: ‘My concern is not cultural authenticity, but emotional truth and uncloying performances. Purity, without baggage!’

The Grammy-nominated award winner’s latest project though, is his most personal yet. Collaborating with his only sister, Jane, who has Down Syndrome, Ian uniquely facilitates a platform for the Sheltered Workshop of diverse voices; spotlighting the ‘developmentally-disabled’ population in what could be the first ever album of its kind. In his notes Ian refers to a nameless “music expert” and his recent assertions that there was no such thing as a “virgin birth”, as he called it, left in music, that it was all based on “outside influence”. Ian however calls upon that “expert” to witness “what can happen when you hand a guitar for the first time to someone who has only partial use of their limbs.” As do some of the ensemble on this remarkable set of recordings. For this is a cast that have never before had that access or even opportunity to make themselves heard through the connective joy of music: the same one Ian enjoys with his sister Jane.

This album is far from an exercise in either charitable virtue or worse, exploitation. It’s more an overdue platform for those who have previously been ignored, sidelined and even patronized due to their needs and disabilities; especially vocally with most unable to articulate because of a reduced vocabulary and speech impediment. However, Ian finds that there are few more “expressive singers” than that are “non-verbal”. And the various pure emotions on display from this group of performers, who’ve previously never sung in front of a mic or played an instrument before, are deeply felt and resonating.

It’s a language that often sounds strikingly stripped of convention; often, to my ears, having more in common with Ian’s recordings from Africa, especially the incredibly vulnerable Tanzania Albinism community on the White African Power album. Sometimes almost ghostly and fragile, and at other times harmonic and utterly compelling, these voices can be as succinct as the performer Dan repeating his name with a raspy growl over a twanged guitar string accompaniment, or, as amorphous as the group effect of mourned vocals on ‘I Love You (Farewell Father)’. Incantation mantra meets the soulful and even fearless.

Accompaniments come in the form of the most expressive and unburdened of experimentation. The already mentioned Dan seems to channel both Medieval sonnet and primal blues-y-swamp rock on his opening turn, whilst Grace’s life story, with its guitar buzz, distortion and drone, hints at psychedelic grunge and shoegaze doom. Tom’s disconsolate ‘Sometimes I Feel Just Like A Zombie’ is so mysterious with its throat-singing snouts and hums that it could be some lost Tibetan malady. Glass-sounding xylophone keyboard effects, trembled strings, slapped rhythms and choruses of kazoos all make appearances on this open and candid collection of unbridled and unreserved communication. But don’t ever think to buy this album just out of charity or compassion, or even as a novelty (even though proceeds do go to a great cause); instead buy it because of those purely uncloying and truthful performances. But buy it because it has personality and something important to say.





See also…

Ian Brennan ‘Interview’ (here)

Ustad Saami ‘God Is Not A Terrorist’ (here)

Malawi Mouse Boys ‘Score For A Film About Malawi Without Music From Malawi’ (here)

Tanzania Albinism Collective ‘White African Power’ (here)



Esbe ‘Saqqara’
(New Cat) album/25th September 2020




Channeling a dreamy cast of ancient Egyptian characters (both fictional and historical), the diaphanous-breathed enchantress Esbe conjures up a most atmospheric peregrination on her fifth album, Saqqara. A musical odyssey of imagined reincarnated lives, the vocalist, producer and composer drifts down an atavistic Aswan, past the landmarks of Pharaoh dynasties: A musical traverse that extends from one civilisation to the next, past Arabia towards Uruk and then into the mystifying regions of Indian Sufi.

But firstly, more about the Egyptian allure that drew Esbe in. The album’s title Saqqara (or sometimes spelt as “Sakkara”) refers to the desert edge site of the awe-inspiring pyramid-tomb of the IIIrd dynasty Pharaoh Djoser; son of the dynasty foundress Nimaathap, who ruled sometime between the years of 2667 – 2648 BC. Not just a resting place but a show of power, Djoser’s impressive tomb was conceived by the even more famous polymath prime minister, high priest and royal architect (known by some Egyptologists as the Egyptian Leonardo) Imhotep. It forms part of the legendary City Of The Dead necropolis that extends across Giza and Dahshu, but is the only one still standing. As it inspired countless others before, this Step Pyramid now forms at least some of the storytelling poetry and atmospherics of this continuously hypnotizing electronic, real instruments and vocal mirage.

Under that monument’s shadow Esbe imagines an Egyptian woman dreaming of a lover, symbolically laying down with the revered Arabian leopard, to an entrancing, circling exotic menagerie and a shimmered procession on the album’s opening ambient fusion ‘My Love Knows No Bounds’. Esbe also evokes the torrid romance between Cleopatra and Mark Anthony on an updated vision of the sword and sandal soundtrack, ‘Carry Me Away’. Half Mills & Boon, half alluring lovelorn exotic camel trail; the two star-crossed lovers are cast adrift to a sound-bed of ponderous synthesizer vapours and cluttering drums.

The desires of escapism of a slave girl, seconded to laboring under the deathly heat on the pyramids, form the yearning sorrows of the Celtic-Arabian ‘I’ll Fly’. Subtle tubular Japan-esque synth percussion and sand dune jazz, dusky trumpet serenade and snake rattles converge to create the musical accompaniment.

Biblical augurs of doom are given a pining 80s synth dreamwave of crystal rays on the duel environmental and lunar phenomenon ‘Paint The Moon’, and low key acid-Arabia undulations permeate the caressed astral ‘Bedouin Prince’.

Moving further east to the subcontinent of India, Esbe lulls and coos melodious devotionals in the style of the Sufi music of Qawaali. Inspired by that forms doyen Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Esbe spindles an electronic spiritual version of Transglobal Underground on ‘Qawaali Dance’, and builds up a filmic drama of unfurled beauty on the epic ‘Qawaali Siesta’.

It’s a cinematic musical world that fuses tablas, zither and electronics with the sounds of the desert wildlife. Vocally Esbe draws on her eclectic Polish, Lithuanian and Jewish roots whilst embracing the phrasings, melodies of North Africa, the Middle East and mystical India. It makes for an ambiguous and impressive vocal that soars aria-like and chorally fills the space: A voice that even smolders.

Saqqara is a dreamy soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates an Egyptian fantasy: one that has a lushly performed lyrical and thematic message for the present epoch.






Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony ‘Prismic Passageways’
(Moonside Tapes) Album/11th August 2020




An ethnographical fiction, bordering on Atlantis myth, the shrouded instigators behind this latest experimental ambient peregrination for the always intriguing cassette label Moonside Tapes set sail for an imaginary land of shaman rituals and mysticism.

With a backstory mined from the annals of real historical anthropology and the field recorder’s archives, those mysterious forces of the Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony build up a half-convincing soundscape catalogue of fantastical atmospheres from the missing geographical link of Maitrii, a South Pacific realm that could have been part of another fantastical dreamed-up sunken continent, Aninomola. Because it never existed, it acts as an inspiration and blank canvas for an atavistic soundtrack of quasi-tribal primitivism and spiritualism.

The back-story goes that the only remnants, evidence of this obscure place and civilization are to be found in the notebooks and recordings of the anthropologist Dr. August Maynard, who it seems disappeared; his belongings in turn, found by villagers on the shores of that equally mystical, though very real, abandoned oasis, Easter Island.

Split into two lengthy recordings of grouped together themes, Prismic Passageways is divided into Trance and Meditation suites. “Presented here unabridged” and in “stereo”, the trance quintet of seamlessly strung-together tracks swirls around in Shamanistic communion, whilst the meditation sextet of dreamy esoteric atmospheres ventures past the misty coastline holy places into the interior. That first side of the tape feels like a misty ether veiled rowing boat drift to Skull Island. Summoned forth into a strange landscape, obscured creature calls and the haunted presence of the Maitrii spirits lure the weary travellers into an ambient sound world. A sorcerer’s crystalline ray reaches out to break the omnipresent foggy mirage at one point, and later, those so far feint rolls across a frame drum and lightly woody beaten pallets are ramped up into heavily reverberating, echoed elongated rhythms. It ends in an intoxicant spiral of drug-induced hallucinogenics: a spiral wispy drowsy and unsure ceremony in the catacombs.

That flip side, which traverses a ‘dawn prayer’, the fabled sun eater, and references the Hebrew biblical place of the ‘Land of Beulah’ – a place somewhere between Heaven and Earth -, features a venerable resonance of South Seas ancient mantric voices, bobbing trickled wooden marimba and minimal ambient suffusions.

For those wishing something different from their ambient traverses, enter the strange anthropological mystery of the Maitrii Orboreal Ceremony.





See also:

Jimmy W ‘Midi Canoe’ (here)

Cousin Silas And The Gloves Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’ (here)




Reissue Features:


Rüstəm Quliyev ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’
(Bongo Joe) Album/18th September 2020




The history and travails of the fecund oil rich country of Azerbaijan are atavistic. This is a nation that has striven to gain independence from a string of empires: both Tsarist and Soviet Russia, Iran, Albania, and much further back, the great Mongol Khan Timur. Desired not only for its abundance in fossil fuels – providing 80% of the Soviet’s oil on the Eastern Front during WWII, and continuing even now to be a vital pipeline for the post-communist Russian Federation – but for its geographical corridor to its fellow Transcaucasia neighbours of Georgia and Armenia in the west, to the south, Iran, in the north, Russia, and to the west, the vast inland lake, the Caspian Sea.

Khanates, caliphates, communism and secularism – Azerbaijan’s first declaration of independence came in 1918 and with it the first secular Muslim state – have all made their marks on this fertile land that in recent years has attempted to make inroads with NATO, the EU and China, whilst shaking off corruption. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it Azerbaijan’s second declaration of independence, coups and counter-coups have hampered a smooth transaction towards democracy. Though the country remains stable, if governed for at least the last two decades by the Aliyev family.

 

Bordering as it does so many cultures, its no wonder that one of the country’s most celebrated guitar pioneers Rüstəm Quliyev absorbed and embraced such a diverse range of customs from abroad and far; from local modals, wedding celebrations and traditions to the regal music of the Persian court, Bollywood musicals and dreamy evocations of Arabia. Reissued by those tastemakers at Bongo Joe Records, this incredible sounding compilation brings together a smattering of eclectic guitar led tracks from the late legend’s expansive diy produced catalogue.

As with many of his forbearers and peers, Rüstəm would firstly master the region’s traditional instruments, the tar (an ornate curvy looking waisted long-necked lute) and saz (another long-necked lute instrument, shaped like a teardrop almost) before picking up the guitar; an instrument or version of which first trickled into the country from the Czech factory makers Jolana in the 1960s. But Rüstəm’s first introduction to the “gitara” was whilst serving in the Soviet military in Russia; an episode that soon ended, allowing the burgeoning talent to return to a civil war in his own homeland.

 

Hailing from the disputed mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Rüstəm’s backyard was in the middle of a war. A convoluted history, but circumstances saw the autonomous Armenian ethnic-majority southern Caucasus area internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but governed by the Republic Of Artsakh. Both breakaway states locked horns in the wake of the Soviet implosion; old rivalries, disputes were bought to the surface and violence soon ensued, including ethnic cleansing atrocities. In 1994 Russia secured a ceasefire after six years of conflict. As a consequence of this upheaval, with populations dispersed in some cases, Rüstəm moved further west towards the country’s Caspian costal capital of Baku; a move that would connect the rural visionary’s formative training with the lakeside cosmopolitan city’s network of international visitors and students, one of which, a student from Afghanistan, would introduce Rüstəm to such Afghan luminaries as Ahmed Zair. Included in this collection, ‘Əfqan Musiqisi’ is inspired by a track on a mixtape his Afghan student pal made for him. As an honour to him this pining song includes the heartfelt lines, “Let’s meet each other again, my friend, because separating is like unexpected death.” It sounds, as does most of his music, like a cross-pollination of influences; a Silk Road lament of bobbed hand drums, threaded lute and synthesized moaning choral voices. That synthesizer patch work is an integral part of the music by the way; a cheap sounding keyboard theatre of misty gazing ambience, punctuation of bass and percussive rolls that accompanies the often rapid, if elegant, nimble guitar performances.

 

Imbued both by doyens of the country’s “gitara” scene, including fellow Karabakh legend Rafiq Hüsey (aka Ramis), yet experimenting himself by refashioning a Jolana Czech guitar, Rüstəm managed to craft a unique merger of the past and present, the traditional and innovative. It helped that he came from a family of engineers, and with his brothers was able to set up a home studio. You can, if inclined, read more details about his tweaks, tunings and such in the liner notes provided by the album’s compilers Ben Wheeler and Stefan William. But in short, his style incorporated a wealth of inspirations, even wider than those already mentioned. For example, you can hear that wealth of influences on both the scenic searching, rough ’n ’ready Persian blues and rock number ‘İran Təranələri’, and the misty-eyed classical, popular Iranian street number, ‘Fars Musiqisi’ – the former via a transmogrified Niles Rodgers. Looking towards India, a famous Bollywood song imbues the strangely windy, horn heralding Western gallop ‘Tancor Disko’: imagine Pino Ruches riding shotgun with Ry Coder and Link Wray. Rüstəm transforms the highly complex classical poetic and improvised folk traditions of the country’s Mugham culture with the silken courtly, echoed fret work of ‘Neyçün Gəlməz’, and replaces the saz for his rapid guitar riffing on the Baba Zula like psychedelic ‘Yanıq Kərəmi’ and 80s sheened wedding dance ‘Baş Sarıtel’.

A caucuses Dick Dale, Omar Souleyman, Hank Marvin, perhaps as some people have proposed, even a touch of funk Mardi Gras Eddie Hazel, Rüstəm was an extraordinary gifted guitarist; one that could riff and strangulate, wrangle a constant trickle of quickened notes and multilayering, resonating poetry. Often he mimics a voice, at other times the lute or saz, yet always sounds mesmerizing and untethered. A rich showcase indeed, it’s time to traverse the Transcaucasia, the Steppes and beyond for those bored with western guitar slingers. Dip your toes into a whole unique and heartening guitar landscape.






Maalam Mahmoud Gania ‘Aicha’
(Hive mind Records) Album/October 2020




After various cultural excursions in South America, Arabia and West Java, Hive Mind Records return full circle to the “Gnawa” music that launched them with a striking reissue package of the beatific Aicha album by the form’s late great doyen Maalam Mahmoud Gania. It was of course Gania’s final studio album Colours Of The Night that first kicked off the label a few years ago. Now, picking up on that saintly venerating Moroccan music again, and in collaboration with Gania’s family, the label have chosen this moment of great turmoil (you could say it was a calm, healing balm just when we needed it most) to release a previously shrouded 90s cassette tape of entrancing communion and invocations from an artist rightly celebrated for pushing Gnawa beyond his hometown of Essaouira to an international audience. For one thing, Gania is celebrated for, perhaps, releasing the first ever Gnawa record, but also for working with such luminaries as Pharaoh Sanders, Bill Laswell and Santana.

The Islamic spiritual devotional poetry, dance and music of the Gnawa ethnic group – a group of Sub-Saharan people descended from slaves – this trance like sound is said to be one of the roots of the “blues” rhythm. Though a scion of the Islamic faith, this music is less restrictive in paying devotion and paean to a host of earthly saints and supernatural “mluk” (or “melk”). These abstract entities, the mluk, are represented by seven saints and seven colours; colours that “entrancer” dancers can wear in the form of robes or scarves. On the album’s bluesy, even jazzy threaded ‘Assamaoui’, those trancers wear blue in reference to the song’s sainted “Sidi Sma” (or “Samaoui”) and their implied ascendant relationship to the sky.

 

Gnawa is, in short, a music, culture of displacement because of its origins, but taken hold in Morocco, especially Gania’s home the key port of Essaouira, a strategically important fortress trading port on the country’s western coastine with the Atlantic. Gania’s home is where this set of recordings was made with an intimate setting of musicians. Though information remains scant, Berkley scholar and curator of the Moroccan Tape Stash blog Tim Abdellah attempts to dig deep and uncover the details; invited as he was to write the extensive liner notes and context for this special reissue. In fact, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from his writing and scholarly notes on the subject. There’s even a translation of the exonerating call and response lyrics, which are often short lines of veneration for sainted shrines and deities that can be both combined with or sung in any order depending on occasion and mood.

Aicha, itself a reference to “she of many monikers”, a powerful female entity with untold mythical origins, is rich with the anticipated quivery strums and throbbing tensions of Gania’s “gumbari” – a camel-skin covered three-string lute. Bowed, stringy and incessant, but gentler and deeper than his playing on Colours Of The Night, Gania’s signature instrument weaves a nice bluesy accompaniment to his soulful exaltations. As always Gania’s gumbari lead is joined by the scuttled, scratchy tin paddled percussive rhythm of the iron castanets, the “krakebs”. It makes for a lively but soothing liturgy of entrancing adulation and praise.

Hypnotizing as always, with the galloping kept to a minimum, this spiritual six-track album is a Gnawa highlight, and a great place to begin discovering this immersive and special music. The label’s done another first class job of bringing this to a wider audience.





See also…

Maalam Mahmoud Gania ‘Colours Of The Night’  (here)

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’  (here)

Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’  (here)

Rodrigo Tavares ‘Congo’  (here



Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Reviews/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea




The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’ and just in the last month, The King Of No-Fi album. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.



Ludwig Dreistern ‘Linda/New Oddity’
(Ikarus Records) Single/Out there now


The debut single by Ludwig Dreistern does have a touch of Granddaddy about it and that can only be a good thing surely. It has the same hushed whispered vocal style and the off kilter like psych synth lines they used with a sparing relish that for a short time in the late 90’s was the rigour: it was the thing to flourish at alternative parties by those who loved to dress in black and say such things as “Mercury Rev are to die for” and such…honest I kid thee not. So relive those days of student splendour and working in a record shop at Christmas with this two-track bevy of Granddaddy like remembrance: you will not be sorry.






Loverground & BB Sway ‘About You’
Single/Out There Now




There is something quite Prince-like about this lovely piece of pop fluff. The kind of fluff that sticks to your cardigan and no matter how many times you think you have flicked the litter blighter away you look again and there it is still attached and growing until it reaches a badge like status that you eventually wear with pride; it is always there, always there as a reminder of something so small that means so much to you and makes you smile to yourself: a piece of fluff you never ever want to live without.




Hiroki Tanaka ‘Inori’
Single/Out there now




This track is a fine slice of musical beauty wrapped in a sweet chocolate like covering of yearning sadness. A song to serenade your dark side into a soft becoming ball of slush with a Radiohead-becoming-The Beatles like melody that sucks you in, and, doesn’t spit you out but just hugs you with a gentle rocking slumber of your most darling hopes wishes and dreams. I bet the forthcoming album is going to be a gem.






Lou Terry ‘If I’m Me Who Are The Other One’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/Out there now




A shallow bathe in the lost beauty of misery and of love lost and found, the power of gentle melodies and the light touch of the lyrical twist really cannot be underestimated, and the master of all those things is Lou Terry whose new album is brimming with songs full of those qualities.

Recorded over the lockdown, like so much of the new music I’m listening to, it is graced – well with the grace and understanding and sublime loss that normally can be found in the outpourings of 80s Go Betweens and the obscure 70s home recordings of John Lennon. When Lou Terry’s voice cracks it is thing of true beauty as it does on ‘Sickly Peach’. You wonder how on earth he is not better-known; it has the same effect as spying a long-lost lover across the street and her shyly smiling the smile that breaks the passing of the years and in an instant you are eighteen and beholden, you are completely lost and once again under the power of her magical spell. And the beauty of this album achieves all this. It almost wants you to feel broken and betrayed lost and bewildered. If I’m Me Who Are The Other Three is the album to soundtrack the oncoming melancholy of Autumn nights; a thing of great beauty.






James PM Philips ‘Manikhana’
Single/Out there now




This is a rather wonderful beast of a track, a lo-fi adventure of pure undiluted home recorded psych; one that brings to mind the off-kilter joy of Skip Spence’s masterpiece Oar, or the magical musical workings of Craig Smith/Maitreya Kali. A song to chant to your own personal god, be it a badly buttered slice of toast or the mythical goddess of pop Deborah; a true work of off the cuff musical madness, one that should be both lauded and applauded. Great musical outpourings indeed.






Lo Tom ‘LP2’
(Self-Released) Album/11th September 2020




Polished Mary Chain-like guitars played by Bryan Adams kick off this self-released [a round of applause for Lo Tom] album of alt rock, and although it attempts nothing new or revolutionary this album it is no worse and a lot better than a lot of the Alt Guitar rock music I’m sent to ponder over. It has a certain bombastic melodious appeal that the Icicle Works sometimes achieved and the emotionally charged exuberance a lot of people will find rewarding. Although not the kind of album I’d normally choose to listen to I can think of a lot of people who will really enjoy this album of well worked alt guitar rock. So if bombastic alt guitar is the kind of thing that rocks you Daddy-O I would advise you to give it a listen.



The Green Child ‘Low Desk: High Shelf’
(Upset The Rhythm) Single/Out There Now




This lovely piece of synth poppery is a fine example of how pop music is still alive and kicking in 2020: A song built on such a floating-on-the-air synth riff it could have kept the Titanic afloat. Beautiful melodies, whispery soft as silk fragile vocals combine to give three and a half minutes of perfect pop.






Feral Wheel ‘The Dolphin Way’
Track/Out There Now




The second track from the rather marvelous newish Liverpool band Feral Wheel takes us drifting back to the late sixties, when the lazy guitar sounds of Arthur lee and his merry band of Love ruled the roost. There is something quite magical about great Liverpool guitar bands and trust me the Feral Wheel show all the signs of being a great Liverpool guitar band. They have the air of woozy stoned- out summer afternoons, of an 1980s stroll down button street after spending far too long deciding which volume of Pebbles the Garage rock comp you were going to buy from the old Probe records store; the sun was always shining the girl you was with was always beautiful, your friends full of wit and a shared excitement for the future, and there was always the music, music like the Feral Wheel to soundtrack the passing of those late summer days, quite sublime sounding like the Feral Wheel.






Agent blå  ‘Frustrated’
(Kanine Records) Single/Out there now




A Gothic like pop subculture melts into Wayne Hussey’s out-stretched arms in a riff ridden glory ride of a skinny dipped PJ Harvey. Pink hi ho silver away tear dropped shaped memory of a gurning John Peel dressed in spurs and a cowboy hatted joker of dead eyes and frippery. Yes those were the days nobody ever mentions anymore. A fine single none the less…and yes, if you put it close to your ear I am sure you will hear the ocean.




Floodlights ‘From A View’
(woo me!/spunk) Album/28th August 2020




Americana from Australia – shall we call it Australiana -, which is the sound of Billy Bragg playing the near hits and misses of the Go Betweens or vice versa if you like, either way what we have here are ten very well written songs of heartache and its many varieties. Guitars that jangle and solos like an escaped riff from Primal Screams Velocity Girl whilst twirling with gay abandon with the dark wistfulness of the well composed lyrics. I also love the boy girl vocal interaction on the album; they do it very well, it fits together with a charm like a forced in piece of a jigsaw puzzle that does not mean to go there but looks better anyhow and gives it a unique look of its own. Oh I do like this album it reminds me of a down at heel Triffids and one cannot pay a higher compliment than that believe me.





REVIEWS/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea





The cult leader of the infamous lo fi gods, The Bordellos, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea has released countless recordings over the decades with his family band of hapless unfortunates, and is the owner of a most self-deprecating sound-off style blog. His most recent releases include The Bordellos beautifully despondent pains-of-the-heart and mockery of clique “hipsters” ode to Liverpool, the diatribe ‘Boris Johnson Massacre’ and just in the last month, The King Of No-Fi album. He has also released, under the Idiot Blur Fanboy moniker, a stripped down classic album of resignation and Gallagher brothers’ polemics.

Each week we send a mountain of new releases to the self-depreciating maverick to see what sticks. In his own idiosyncratic style and turn-of-phrase, pontificating aloud and reviewing with scrutiny an eclectic deluge of releases, here Brian’s latest batch of recommendations.


Violent Vickie ‘Division’
Album/4th September 2020


Thank the lord for the splendid Violent Vickie and her love for waving darkly at both inanimate and moving objects, for what we have here is a dive head first into her musical synth art of an album: the place where synths whoosh and drum machines do the noise drum machines make, which on the whole is much preferable to the sounds a drummer makes and without less sweat, unless Prince Andrew was the drummer that is and if that was the case someone should warn young Victoria to watch her back and front and all her other areas for that Prince is a bad un.

But what we have here in fact is a royal treasure of an album; an alternative disco Goth delight of an album; one that builds and interjects with an atmospheric grace most dark wave releases [yes and I hear plenty of those; most I ignore] would love to achieve. What moves this album up a notch from 99 per cent of all the other alternative dark synth dark wave that comes my way is Violent Vickie’s grasp of melody and the catchy synth riff, ‘The Blame’ track being a prime example, a riff that weaves its merry way throughout the track without overstaying it’s welcome.

There is also a slightly “ok I am about to lose it feel” about the songs; the “yes I am teetering on the edge and I am not sure what way I am going to fall” feel; a feel I fully support, recognise and understand and which gives the music a touch of “this is my real life, my art, not me playing at being a pop princess” and I have no doubt pop princess is something Victoria could become if that was her want as she has the panache of a Peaches or Miss Kitten when the dark wave succumbs to the total disco glitterball of all the underlying influences this album possess; all but exploding on the sultry ‘Secret Wife’, a song that reeks of glorious seedy glamour.

This album is a wonderful rare thing not just a dark wave album I will want to listen to again but one I could also dance to, but that is a sight I would not force on anyone or anything living or dead: a dance I would name the Violent Vickie. And yes, this album Division is a true joy… [sorry could not resist].





See also…

Violent Vickie ‘The Blame’ Single Review



The Hannah Barberas ‘Fallow Days’
EP/13th August 2020




All the money made from this lovely jangly EP of sublime summer pop songs go to a food bank Lucy from the Hannah Barberas works at, which is reason enough to give it a spin. Four songs that are jangly and pop affirming: I would have said life affirming, but pop music is life to so many of us and this EP proves what a wonderful life pop life is with songs that have the spirit of C86 running through them. For all lovers of Orange Juice, June Brides even Belle And Sebastian and all those other bands we indie poppers love will in no doubt embrace this fine work of indie popdom.





See also…

The Hannah Barberas  ‘Into The Wild’ LP Review



Death By Unga Bunga ‘Trouble’
(Jansen Records) Single/Out Now





I like this, but then I do have a soft spot for songs with power, fun and melody, and this track has all of the aforementioned. A song that will send you spinning back to the days when power pop was briefly en vogue in the late seventies’, early eighties. Yes it almost has me wanting not to finish writing this short and sweet review and nipping onto Youtube and get misty eyed over the hits near hits and misses of The Motors. A lovely little nugget of the power pop variety.






Occult Character ‘Race To The Grave’
Track/Now





It is great to see that Occult Character is finally getting some recognition and radio play from WFMU-FM in America; a man who I’ve been writing and raving about for a couple of years now: although John Robb will probably claim to have discovered him at some point in the future when he actually gets round to hearing him.

So once again we have a under two-minute slam-dunk of a track spraying piss over the state of America and its current failings. Occult Character releases far too much material to actually stay up with him and is probably doing himself a disservice, so by the time this goes to press no doubt there will be another dozen or so tracks to marvel, laugh and cry over.





See also…

Occult Character  ‘Steve Albini’s Kundalini’ LP Review

‘Cult Of Ignorance’ Mini LP Review

‘Chittering Noises’  LPs of 2019


Various ‘Songs Of The City Of The Four Faces – Cambodian Music Of The 60s’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/19th August 2020





I admit I know nothing about Cambodian pop music from the 60s, so I jump into this album with a little trepidation. But I’m a great lover of 60s beat music and garage rock and 60s pop and spend many a hour delving into the vaults of time unearthing forgotten gems, so I have high hopes. And I’m not disappointed with what I find. What I discover is that this is a treasure trove of 60s hip swinging beat magic; a treasure trove of groovy basslines enthusiastic backing vocals; wonderful cheap sounding 60s guitars, the kind of guitar you would pay a fortune for today; and warm Hammond organ sounds, the kind Clint Boon no doubt has wet dreams about and in the case of the track ‘Kanha Roup Sros’ by my fave of the 5 artists Ros Seresysthes, a horn led little beauty Dexy’s would release 20 years later. In fact I’d say that but Pen Ron could well be my fave newly discovered artist; pure undiluted pop genius from strange psych to out there beat pop magic to melodramatic horn led soul. On the whole this album is one of pure joyful discovery and one I would recommend to anyone even with a passing interest in 60s pop /beat music.





See also 

The Cambodian Space Project ‘Whisky Cambodia’ LP Review (Ben P Scott)

Various Artists  ‘Khmer Rouge Survivors – They Will Kill You, If You Cry’ Albums of 2016 (Dominic Valvona)



Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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